ASHWAUBENON – It was a position that Sheboygan North head coach Eric Spielman knew was trouble.
Trailing De Pere in the closing minutes has not worked out well for many Redbirds’ opponents. Spielman and the Golden Raiders knew that. They had experienced it before.
“We had the same situation when we played them before where we were down two with three minutes to go and it turns into a bigger lead,” Spielman said. “We knew they were a team you didn’t want to be behind with two minutes to go because (Olivia) De Cleene is tough to guard and they don’t miss any free throws.”
The Redbirds hit all eight free-throw attempts in the final 1:45 and were able to pull away from Sheboygan North for a 53-45 win in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal at Ashwaubenon High School on Thursday night.
The Redbirds (23-2) will play in a Division 1 sectional final on Saturday at Whitefish Bay at 4 p.m.
And one of the reasons they will be there is because of what they did at the free-throw line.
“We are very confident (at the free-throw line),” said De Pere senior Olivia DeCleene. “We know free throws win games and that’s ultimately what we did. It came down to our free throws and we hit them and those were huge.”
DeCleene, who led De Pere with 15 points, was 4-of-4 from the line in the final two minutes, while Lizzie Miller and Rachel Kerkhoff also hit two free throws each to help close out the win.
Sheboygan North’s Kylie Gierach converted a three-point play with 1:38 to play that brought the Golden Raiders within two, but that would be the last points for North.
“Great teams make free throws, especially in pressure situations,” said De Pere coach Jeremy Boileau. “If we don’t have girls go up there with confidence and knock those down it’s a different ballgame.”
The Golden Raiders rallied from an 11-point deficit midway through the second half after a DeCleene three-point play gave the Redbirds a 36-25 lead.
Mariah Platz hit a basket and then drained a 3-pointer, while back-to-back 3-pointers from Meredith Opie – who paced the Golden Raiders with 14 points — knotted the score at 36 with 6:24 left to play.
“She just lives in the moment and I don’t think any situation is too much pressure for her,” Spielman said. “She just goes out and plays. She’s had big moments and it’s been fun to see her evolve over the course of the year.”
Liz Nies broke the North run with a wing jumper but Gierach answered with a 3-pointer to give North its only lead of the second half at 39-38.
But once again De Pere had the answer.
This time it was Annie Boyd scoring five points on a pair of possessions to give the Redbirds back the lead with and De Pere would hang on from there.
“It feels really good,” DeCleene said. “We know Sheboygan North is a great team and we had to come out with a lot of energy, which we did.”
De Pere jumped on Sheboygan North at the outset, taking advantage of the Raiders’ box-and-one defense on Miller to generate some open shots. Annie Schneider and DeCleene drilled 3-pointers in the first five minutes as the Redbirds grabbed a quick 9-0 lead.
Platz finally got North on the scoreboard with 10:36 left in the opening half with a 3-pointer. The Raiders followed the shot with an 11-5 run, capped by back-to-back baskets from Kiara Dallmann that tied the game at 14 with 4:14 left before halftime.
Another Dallmann basket with a minute left in the half gave North its first lead at 19-18, but DeCleene’s runner in the lane as the first half ended boosted De Pere back in front by one at the break.
“I’m incredibly proud of our girls. Our girls just love to play,” Spielman said. “They came, played hard and that’s what we’ve done all year.”
Sheboygan North…19 26 – 45
De Pere…20 33 – 53
SHEBOYGAN NORTH: Shcaringer 3, Gierach 10, Opie 14, Dallmann 10, Platz 8. 3-pointers: 8 (Opie 4, Platz 2, Scharinger, Gierach). FTs: 3-7. Fouls: 13.
DE PERE: Schneider 10, Boyd 6, DeCleene 15, Limmer 7, Kerkhoff 7, Nies 8. 3-pointers: 5 (Schneider, Boyd, DeCleene, Miller, Kerkhoff). FTs: 14-17. Fouls: 13.
Steve Clark: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter at @skcreno27