Polar Bears one win away from state
By Erik Buchinger
Hortonville scored the first 16 points of the second half, and New London was unable to recover in the Polar Bears’ 55-40 WIAA Division II sectional semifinal win on Thursday, March 2 in Kimberly.
Hortonville senior Olivia Griesbach scored a career-high 16 points as the Polar Bears moved on to the sectional finals.
”I thought our kids just battled all the way through,” Hortonville head coach Celeste Ratka said. “When adversity struck, they made shots and we just kept playing. That’s what we talk about with that next play mentality, and they did that really well. I’m just really proud of our girls and really happy for them.”
Though New London’s season is over, head coach Troy Krause said reaching the sectional semifinal made the season a success.
“It was a good year for us,” Krause said. “Our goal early was to win a regional championship, get to sectionals and see how it played out, and I thought we showed well today.”
Hortonville junior Shay Frederick scored the first five points of the game en route to a 12-point performance, but teams went back and forth with several lead changes in the first half.
Frederick found junior Lexi Walter open under the hoop for a layup to score two of her 11 points right before the halftime buzzer, and the Polar Bears went into the locker room with a 22-21 lead.
Hortonville used a full-court press to start the second half, which led to several New London turnovers and Polar Bear layups.
Hortonville went on a 16-0 run to extend its to 38-21, and New London went scoreless for the first 6 minutes, 20 seconds of the half until senior Leah Porath scored two of her game-high 17 points on a put back following a missed free throw.
“I think the buzz really got us going,” Ratka said. “The full-court pressure was good to start with in the second half. Sometimes kids aren’t ready to go right away in the second half, and I think it just carried over and got us really aggressive.”
New London head coach Troy Krause said the start of the second half was the difference in the game.
“That first stretch coming out of halftime was a killer for us,” Krause said. “They put a little pressure on us and caused us to make some mistakes. Then we kind of fell apart on the defensive end getting rebounds, and they were getting a lot more second and third shots. Before we knew it we were down by 17 points.”
The Bulldogs went on a run of their own and outscored Hortonville 15-3 to cut the deficit to 41-36 with seven minutes left.
“I thought we had two bad stretches that really hurt us,” Krause said. “We got it all the way back to five, but another bad run kind of sealed the fate for us. Once they got us rattled, we couldn’t get the wheels put back on. The wheels fell off, and they were off for quite a while.
Hortonville scored the next 10 points to pull away and extend its lead to 51-36 with 2 minutes, 33 seconds remaining.
“We’ve been talking about having that killer instinct when we’re up and trying to keep a team down,” Ratka said. “I thought the kids started doing that a little bit. We kept our aggression, which I think is important for us to stay aggressive offensively. It just carries over to the defensive end, so I think we did that a lot better.”
Krause said having an inexperienced team with two freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and one senior in the rotation was a factor.
“I think our youth showed a little bit,” Krause said. “I think this is an environment that a lot of them hadn’t played in yet. We panicked a little bit and got ourselves out of position, which led to some turnovers.”
Krause said he hopes the experience for a young team will help moving forward.
“I hope it motivates the girls who are coming back that they can do this, and I hope this environment was a fun environment that they want to get back and do this,” Krause said. “It’s really up to them and it really all depends on how important it all is to them. If basketball is important to them, you’d think this would be a great motivator to put the extra work in, and I guess we’ll see as the summer goes through.”
The Polar Bears advanced to the WIAA Division II sectional finals and will play Menomonie on Saturday, March 4 at 1 p.m. at Eau Claire North High School. The winner will advance to the state competition on Friday, March 10 at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
“I’m just thrilled for the kids,” Ratka said. “When you start the year, it’s all about the journey, and the kids have goals in mind right from the beginning. I think throughout the year, we’ve done the work to put us in position to have the opportunity, and I know they’re going to make the most of the opportunity.”