WIAA girls basketball: Defense carries G-E-T to sectional title, first state appearance

March 3, 2019

ALTOONA, Wis. — Defense has carried the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau girls basketball team throughout the postseason and that continued on Saturday.

The Red Hawks held Hayward to nine points over the final 24 minutes, 54 seconds of a 47-22 victory in a Division 3 sectional final them to the first WIAA state tournament in team history.

“Day One we talked about where we want to go — 1901 South Oneida Street. That’s the Resch Center. We’ve had that up on our boards since day one,” G-E-T coach Louis Hurd said of qualifying for the state tournament. “So proud of these girls. I’m so proud of how they bought in.”

The Red Hawks (24-2) will play a semifinal at the Resch Center in Green Bay on Thursday afternoon after the four qualifying teams are seeded on Sunday.

G-E-T held Hayward scoreless over the final 9:25 of the game as the Red Hawks pushed their 31-22 advantage well into double figures with 16 consecutive points.

“We were really on point defensively (today),” G-E-T senior Lexi Wagner said. “Early, we had a couple of short closeouts giving them a couple 3s, but the second half we really got into them, really made them uncomfortable, got tips, got steals, and every single rebound was ours.”

Hayward (18-7) was within 25-16 after a free throw, but Wagner opened things up with 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions. The second came from well beyond the arc.

“We know she can get going at any time,” Hurd said. “We just had to keep taking punches and giving some. We knew eventually things would open up.”

The Hurricanes were up 13-9 with 6:54 left in the first half as Hayward’s Ellie Strapon made two of three free throws after being fouled on a 3. Hayward was on a 8-0 run, fueled by two 3s that turned a 9-5 deficit into a lead.

G-E-T changed in its defensive strategy, moving to a zone and pushing its defense farther out to the perimeter. Hayward had made three 3-pointers in the first nine minutes.

The changed worked, as the Red Hawks closed the half on a 13-0 run to pull ahead 22-13.

“We went to a little more pressure, a little more trap, and the girls played with really good angles,” Hurd said of the defensive change. “They played with really active hands and feet, and we got after them a little more because we really didn’t want to give up those 3s. I think we were a little soft in our man, so we decided to up the pressure.”

Macy Doerr’s layup off a nice back cut started the decisive run. Wagner got a transition basket after a steal, then made both free throws after being fouled on the following possession to give the Red Hawks the lead. They never trailed after that.

Wagner assisted on a Lindsey Lettner basket before hitting her first triple of the game shortly after. G-E-T ended the half as Alex Hammond scored just before the halftime buzzer.

G-E-T, ranked fifth in the final Associated Press poll, has held its four playoff opponents to an average of 30.5 points per game and have only allowed more than 50 twice all season.

“It’s something that we’ve used in and out throughout the season at times,” Hurd said of the aggressive perimeter zone defense. “They really believed in it. We have the length to do it, and it’s just a confidence thing. We’ve been preparing to continue that pressure.”

Wagner led G-E-T with 21 points. Molly Schmitz had seven, and Olivia Zielke and Alexa Hammond each added five. Hayward was led by nine points from Emily Neff.

The Red Hawks head to Green Bay with 23 wins in their last 24 games.

“There is no better feeling,” Wagner said of the sectional title. “I don’t know how to describe it, how to put it into words. It’s too great to explain.”

“It’s a great day to be Red Hawk. The credit goes to these ladies,” said Hurd, G-E-T’s first-year coach. “I stepped in and every day we just got better. We’ve stayed the course, and here we are.”