Whether the New London girls’ basketball team wins a third straight Division 2 state championship in March remains to be seen, but the Bulldogs already have accomplished one of their goals: winning the Bay Conference championship.
The Bulldogs sealed their second conference title in a row Feb. 14 with a 62-53 home win over Oconto Falls.
Brenna Heise scored a season-high 33 points to lead New London to its 61st win in a row and 19th of the season. The 61-game winning streak, which dates back to the 2010-11 season, is the longest in the state.
“Honestly, the streak means nothing right now,” coach Andrea Flease said. “We’re down to the end of the season where you want to get momentum heading into the tournament, go into every game with the same mentality and do what we planned. The rest will take care of itself.”
Oconto Falls came close to knocking off the Bulldogs earlier this season, but fell 41-39 Jan. 15.
Heise helped the Bulldogs build an early lead in the rematch, as her three three-pointers in the game’s first 3:19 helped New London take a 13-2 lead.
“Brenna helped us out a ton with that and other girls stepped up when she wasn’t scoring,” Flease said. “I was very happy with the first half. We made some changes from the last game and the girls did it well.”
New London led 20-8 after one quarter and opened second quarter with a 7-0 run to take a 27-8 lead. Heise had 19 points at the break, as New London took a 36-19 lead.
“What can’t you say about Brenna?” Flease asked. “Inside. Tonight, she proved she can go outside. She’s just a great kid and I’m glad I got the chance to coach her.”
Heise, who will take her basketball skills to Michigan Tech, is the only returning starter from last season’s undefeated team.
“I don’t know how much more better she got skill-wise,” said Flease, a member of the Bulldogs’ first two state tournament teams in 2006 and 2007 who played her college ball at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point before replacing Troy Krause this season.
“I just know she had a bigger window this year and she really filled that role,” she said. “The leadership role is where the biggest improvement came for her. It’s great to have because we really need it with this team.”
Oconto Falls’ leading scorer, McKenna Larsen, finished with 16, but only had three points at halftime and five points through three quarters.
“We put Brenna on her,” Flease said. “She’s a little longer and made her go right. (Larsen) is left-handed. When she goes to her left, she’s hard to beat. We made her go to the right and had help defense there. Lexi (Roland) guarded her a little and did a great job. No matter what she did, she had to go right. I think that was the key to slowing her down, make someone else on the team beat us.”
The Panthers never got any closer to 14 points in the third quarter, but cut the lead to eight – 60-52 – on Elizabeth Watzka’s three-pointer with 52 seconds remaining.
However, the Bulldogs hit enough free throws down the stretch and the Panthers never got any closer.
Roland added nine points for the Bulldogs, while Amber Pethke chipped in with seven. Larsen and Carly Lemke led Oconto Falls with 16 points each, while Jennifer Spang chipped in with 11.
The Bulldogs improved to 14-0 in conference play with two Bay contests and a nonconference game remaining on the schedule.
“It’s the first goal,” Flease said of the Bay title. “We definitely don’t want losses in our column, so we’re going to play hard until the end of the season. Then, we go into the tournament and see what we can do there.”
She’d like to head into tournament play a positive note.
“That’s the biggest thing that we’re worried about right now,” she said. “You don’t want to go into the tournament in a lull, you want to go in on a peak. All you can do is stay positive, take care of the basketball, play solid defense. That way, we know what we’re doing once the tournament comes around.”
Heise, Roland, Pethke and the Bulldogs’ other juniors and seniors have played in big tournament games before and have been to state twice.
“It helps, that’s for sure,” Flease said. “They have the experience. They all stepped up to take a bigger role on this adventure that we’re about to go on.”