It wasn’t the dominating performance that the New London girls’ basketball team has turned in time and time again this season, but it was still good enough to send the Bulldogs back to state to defend their Division 2 championship.
After outscoring their opponents 214-63 in their three previous state tournament games, the Bulldogs handed Hayward a 37-21 defeat Saturday, March 17, in a sectional final in Marshfield. New London also defeated Merrill 67-22 in a sectional semifinal Thursday, March 15, in Wausau.
The 26-0 Bulldogs will now face 21-5 Green Bay Notre Dame at 1:35 p.m. Friday, March 23, in a Division 2 state semifinal at the Kohl Center in Madison. The winner will face New Berlin Eisenhower (26-0) or Reedsburg (23-3), the other semifinalists, in the state championship game at 6:35 p.m. Saturday, March 24.
New London 37, Hayward 21
MARSHFIELD – The Bulldogs had averaged more than 70 points in each of their three state tournament games, but had trouble getting things going offensively against the patient Hurricanes.
New London led 11-7 after one quarter, but held Hayward to three points in the second quarter to take a 20-10 halftime lead. Tara Knapstein hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bulldogs the 10-point lead at the break and New London carried that momentum into the third quarter.
“We didn’t talk about it at halftime, but when you put three points on the board, especially that way, it’s not going to hurt in a tight game,” coach Troy Krause said. “It might have hurt them as much as it helped us.”
Hayward’s Arien Becker cut New London’s lead to 24-16 with a three-point play in the third quarter, but the Bulldogs closed the quarter with a 5-0 run and scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 17.
“We were a little tentative in the first half,” Krause said. “We had too many girls passing on their good shots and not getting to where they needed to be. We talked about that at halftime and talked about keeping our hands off defensively and not getting so many fouls. I thought we did a good job of coming out in the third quarter and knocking down some shots. We’re one of those teams where you look up at the scoreboard after a couple of possessions and we’re up by six or eight points.”
Knapstein scored 10 of her team-high 12 points in the first half, while Becker led Hayward with 12.
“We knew coming in that Hayward was going to try the ball on us and we kind of expected it to be a low-scoring game, but we do have confidence in our defense,” Krause said. “If we can make them hold the ball, we going to get a shot to get a steal. We were able to get just enough of those to extend the lead.”
New London 67, Merrill 22
WAUSAU – Merrill scored the first basket, but that turned out to be the Bluejays’ only lead of the game, as New London scored the next 14 points and led 16-4 after one quarter and 38-9 at halftime.
Knapstein and Brenna Heise accounted for 29 of the Bulldogs’ points in the first half with 15 and 14, respectively.
Merrill never got any closer than 27 points in the second half, as New London took a 51-18 lead into the fourth quarter and outscored the Bluejays 16-4 over the final eight minutes.
Knapstein led all scorers with 22 points, while Heise added 17.
The Bulldogs also hit nine of 12 free throws and held Merrill’s leading scorer, Renee Sladek, to six points, all in the second half. New London is the only Division 2 team still alive in the tournament that made it to state last season.
“We went back-to-back a couple years ago (2006-07), so it doesn’t hurt,” Krause said. “It’s a big game, but when you step onto Kohl Center and the TV’s running, there’s some excitement and nerves there.”
The Bulldogs didn’t win the Bay Conference last season, but won its first state title with a 53-45 win over the Bay’s Luxemburg-Casco, a team that beat New London twice during the regular season.
“I think it’s the experience from last year and having so many girls come back,” Krause said. “We’re blessed to have quite a few options for the basketball. When you have two, three or four options in girls’ basketball, that helps your team. Our defense this year has been good, if not better, and I think that’s what kind of led the way.”
Eisenhower, the 2010 D2 state champion, is also undefeated, so the championship game could be a matchup of unbeaten teams if the Lions and Bulldogs win their semifinal.
“We’ve heard all year how Eisenhower is supposed to win the state championship,” Krause said. “We’re undefeated, we’re ranked No. 1, we’re the defending state champions and no one’s picked us to win this thing. I think the girls have a chip on their shoulder. We have to get there, we understand that. We’re not looking past our first game, but a little motivation never hurts.
“Hopefully, we play well enough Friday to put us in that position,” he added. “We’ve been focused all year. We took it up a notch at tournament time and I think we’re ready for it, I really do.”
• Community-wide pep rallies are scheduled at the school at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 25, and at 7:45 a.m. today (Thursday, March 22).
• Tickets for Saturday’s Division 2 championship game will be available at the Kohl Center following Friday’s semifinal game.
• The School District of New London will sponsor a high school student fan bus for both games. Students are asked to sign up in the main office by 3 p.m. today. If possible, students are asked to sign up for Saturday as well so the school has a preliminary head count. There is no charge to ride the bus, but students must have a game ticket. The bus for Friday’s game will leave the high school at 10 a.m. and return immediately following the game. The bus for Saturday’s game will leave the high school at 3 p.m. The bus will load in the South/teacher’s parking lot both days. Contact the high school office at 920-982-8420 for more information.
• The New London Parks & Recreation Department has reserved a community fan bus for both days. The Kobussen coach bus will leave the City Municipal Building back parking lot at 9 a.m. Friday at 9 a.m. for the 1:35 p.m. and return immediately after the game if the team loses and after the end of Saturday’s championship game if New London wins its semifinal game. The cost is $25 per person and gratuity to the bus driver is appreciated. The bus will not stop on the way for lunch, but may stop on the way home. The bus will leave immediately after the game. Saturday’s bus will leave at 2 p.m. for the championship game and will be cancelled if New London loses its semifinal game. People enrolled will receive a full refund. Riders must find their own ticket to the event, which are available either through the school or at the Kohl Center. Children 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Call 920-982-8521 to sign up or visit www.newlondonwi.org.
• The New London Fire Department will escort the team through downtown. Times will vary based on the games and difficulty getting out of Madison at the conclusion of the game.
• New London will go up against a familiar name to local high school basketball fans in the state semifinal. Former Weyauwega-Fremont standout Matt Rohde is an assistant coach at Notre Dame. His wife, Sara Boyer Rohde, is in her first season as the Tritons’ head coach. Both played college basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Matt Rohde was a member of the W-F team that advanced to the boys’ Division 3 championship game in 2001.
• “Good Day Wisconsin,” the morning news program on WLUK, was in New London Tuesday, March 20, and featured interviews with Krause and players. Bridget Pethke and Heise also appeared on The Post-Crescent’s Varsity Roundtable Wednesday, March 21.