A fourth straight trip to state for the New London girls’ basketball team came up a little short.
The Bulldogs saw their season come to an end March 15 with a 33-28 overtime loss to La Crosse Central in a Division 2 sectional final matchup in Marshfield.
Meanwhile the Bulldogs overcame a four-point first half March 13 and handed Merrill a 29-24 loss in the semifinal round.
La Crosse Central 33, New London 28 (OT)
MARSHFIELD – She only scored nine points in the game, but Brittany Baldwin’s four free throws in overtime helped send the Red Raiders back to state for the first time since 1995.
Fans looking for a high-scoring game from teams that came into the game with a combined 40-9 record probably left the Boson. Co. Fieldhouse disappointed, as New London trailed 7-4 after one quarter and 10-7 at halftime.
The Bulldogs and Red Raiders combined for five three-pointers in the third quarter alone, however, as New London took a 20-16 lead into the fourth quarter on Gretl Steingraber’s three at the buzzer.
New London eventually built a 25-18 lead midway through the quarter on Leah Porath’s basket, but the Red Raiders outscored them 7-1 down the stretch to send the game into overtime tied at 26-26.
“We had some open shots and we told the girls to keep shooting because there were still three or four minutes left,” coach Troy Krause said. “(Central) executed some nice plays and got a three-point play. All of a sudden, that seven-point lead was down to one. I thought they did a better job down the stretch executing a few things they needed to do.”
Baldwin had a chance to win it for the Red Raiders with 2.8 seconds remaining in regulation after New London’s Amber Pethke fouled out of the game, but missed the front end of the bonus to force overtime.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I wasn’t sure we were going to get overtime,” Krause said.
The Bulldogs also had a chance late in regulation. A traveling violation on Central’s Katlyn Resch gave New London the ball with 42 seconds remaining. Krause called time outs with 34 and 10 seconds remaining, but Baldwin came up with a steal before Pethke committed her fifth foul.
Baldwin gave the Red Raiders a 28-26 lead in overtime with a pair of free throws. New London’s Mickey Roland tied the game, but the Bulldogs never got the lead back.
“They made a few more plays down the stretch,” Krause said.
New London finished the game with starters Pethke and Lexi Roland on the bench after fouling out.
“We said at the beginning of the year was one thing that could really hurt us would be foul trouble,” Krause said. “It kind of reared its head today. We had three starters with foul trouble in the first half. Not to make excuses, but the reality is they’re not out there if they’re in foul trouble. That was tough for us to have two starters out. It’s not that the girls that went in didn’t do what they could do, but you have your starters in there for a reason.”
Baldwin, who converted a three-point play with 1:31 remaining to tie the game at 26-26, also played most of the game with foul trouble, as she had three in the first half and picked up her fourth foul with 5:06 to go in the third quarter before taking a seat on the bench for much of the second half.
“She’s a good basketball player and caused some problems with her quickness,” Krause said.
Porath led the Bulldogs with eight points, while Mickey Roland added seven and Lexi Roland and Steingraber chipped in with six each.
Central will now take on DeForest Friday, March 21, in a Division 2 state semifinal at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.
New London 29, Merrill 24
STEVENS POINT – Renee Sladek had 17 points for Merrill, but the Bulldogs held the rest of her team to seven points.
Merrill led 8-2 after one quarter and 14-4 at halftime, but New London outscored the Bluejays 25-10 in the second half.
New London cut Merrill’s lead to 18-15 heading into the fourth quarter before outscoring the Bluejays 14-6 over the final eight minutes.
Seventeen of the Bulldogs’ 29 points came from the free-throw line and the team hit only one of 17 field goals in the first half. Mickey Roland led New London with 14 points.
“We talk about defense being our thing,” Krause said. “We knew early in the year that we could struggle offensively. We’ve had players that would step up in every game. We were definitely a team. They did a good job of figuring it out throughout the year and it’s what got us to a sectional final.”