It was the matchup the New London girls’ basketball team was hoping for.
It was the outcome the Bulldogs wanted as well.
New London won its second straight Division 2 state championship Saturday, March 24, with a 43-39 win over previously unbeaten New Berlin Eisenhower at the Kohl Center in Madison. The win over Eisenhower capped a 28-0 season for the Bulldogs, who have now won 42 straight games.
The Bulldogs had advanced to the title game with a 52-34 win Friday, March 23, over Green Bay Notre Dame.
New London 43,
NB Eisenhower 39
Tara Knapstein scored 12 points and Bridget Pethke came up with nine steals, a new record in the Division 2 championship game.
“Everyone was waiting to get that perfect game from both perfect teams,” Knapstein said. “It just feels even better to come out on top undefeated over the other undefeated team.”
Eisenhower’s Nicole Bauman, a University of Wisconsin recruit who was named the state’s top girls’ basketball player following the game, was held to four points over the first three quarters, but scored 10 of her game-high 14 points over the final 4:21.
New London outscored the Lions 10-9 in the first quarter. Erin Ganzke’s layup cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 12-11 early in the second quarter, but New London finished the period with an 8-2 run to take a 20-13 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs took their biggest lead by either team – nine points – on Heather Paalman’s basket 16 seconds into the second half, but the Lions eventually cut the lead to 27-25 heading into the fourth quarter.
Bauman found her shooting touch late in the game. Her three-pointer with 4:21 to play gave the Lions a 30-29 lead. Bauman tied the game at 37-37 on another three with 1:26 to play, but the Bulldogs pulled ahead for good on Knapstein’s layup with 42 seconds to play. She went on to lead the Bulldogs with 12 points in her final high school game.
Pethke came up with a steal for New London and Emily Steffanus hit one of two free throws with 20 seconds remaining to give New London a 40-37 lead. She missed the second attempt, but grabbed her own rebound, forcing Eisenhower to foul.
Morgan Steinert hit a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left to put the Bulldogs ahead 42-37. Another basket by Bauman made it 42-39 with four seconds left before Pethke sealed the win with a free throw.
Besides scoring six points, Pethke also guarded Bauman.
“I knew she was going to try to take over the game,” she said. “She’s a good player and that’s what she does.”
“We knew they had a run in them,” coach Troy Krause said. “We took a timeout and just talked about relaxing, finding a good shot that you can get. We were able to get that good shot and made some free throws down the stretch.”
The Bulldogs were whistled for 15 fouls on the night, including seven in the first quarter alone.
“We weren’t forcing them to make any calls on us,” Krause said. “We’ve talked the last month or so about staying out of foul trouble. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way.”
“Our team is used to playing with a lot of fouls,” Knapstein said. “We just didn’t let the refs or crowd get to us.”
“Everyone was looking for a good game,” Eisenhower coach Gary Schmidt said. “I think we all got that tonight. I thought we played well. This was a game of bounces and a couple bounces didn’t go our way today. We just came up a little short tonight.”
New London 52,
GB Notre Dame 34
The Bulldogs’ defense eventually wore down the Tritons in the second half.
New London led 14-10 after one quarter, but Notre Dame trimmed the lead to 23-22 at halftime. Notre Dame never took the lead in the second half and trailed by as many as nine points in the third quarter.
Brianna Byrne’s three-pointer with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter cut New London’s lead to 35-29. Another three from Byrne 19 seconds into the fourth quarter trimmed the lead to 35-32, but the Bulldogs put the game out of reach with a 15-0 run.
“Our execution in the first half was a little off,” Krause said. “I probably said ‘execution’ about 15 times at halftime.”
Knapstein and Pethke led New London with 18 points each, while Byrne led the Tritons with 17. Pethke also held Notre Dame’s leading scorer, Allison LeClaire, to five points and only one field goal.
“My job is to not let her get the ball,” she said. “When she did, I had to keep her in front of me. They hit some big shots in the first half. It was all about how many defensive stops we could get.”
“New London is very talented,” Notre Dame coach Sara Boyer Rohde said. “I thought we played really well for about 3 1/4 quarters. Then they turned it on.”
The win over the Lions came almost a year after New London defeated Luxemburg-Casco in last year’s D2 championship game.
“It’s an amazing feeling to go back-to-back,” Pethke said.