MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM CO-GAME OF THE WEEK (Feb. 21–28)
WIAA D5 GIRLS BASKETBALL: Belmont 65, Wauzeka–Steuben 59
By A.J. Gates, Tri-County Press/Herald Independent
BELMONT — With their season on the line, top-seeded Belmont banded together in the closing minute of Saturday’s regional championship game to rally past the #4-seeded Wauzeka–Steuben Hornets for a thrilling title-clinching victory.
The Braves (22–4 overall) scored the final eight points over the last 1:11 to sting the Hornets (21–6), 65–59, in a WIAA Division 5 girls’ basketball regional finale at BHS on Saturday, Feb. 26.
“It’s who we are. They just don’t give up. They always believe that they can win,” said Belmont head coach Kaleen McGettigan after guiding the Braves to the third regional championship in school history and a record-setting 22nd win this season. “I’m so proud of these girls. I know all the hard work they’ve put in to get us to this point, so everything they are doing is well deserved. It’s a pretty special team.”
The game featured 14 lead changes– eight in the first half and six in the second– until junior guard Rylee Rogers buried a cold-blooded 3-pointer with 1:06 remaining to thrust the Braves into the lead for good.
After connecting on just eight of their first 17 free throw attempts, the host Braves went 3-for-4 from the line in the final 53.4 seconds, one from junior Kennedy Howell and two from junior Mia Hodgson, to seal the victory and hoist their first regional trophy since 2014.
The Hornets shot off on an early 9–0 run to open up an 11–3 advantage, and then extended the lead to 20–10 midway through the first half to force McGettigan to call a timeout.
“I told them before the game that we’re going to trade punches, so it will be about whoever weathers those punches. When I called the timeout, I said here’s the first punch. Now, how are you going to respond?” commented McGettigan.
The Braves responded in a flash, reeling off 10 unanswered points over the next two minutes to tie the score at 20 all.
W–S went back up 29–28 with 5:08 remaining in the half, but Rogers turned a steal into a coast-to-coast layup and then buried a 3-pointer to kick off a 10–5 run that put the Braves ahead 38–34 at the intermission.
Junior Chloe Crapp hit four 3s and scored all 13 of her points in the first half to lead Belmont. Rogers added five and four other players netted four each to guide their balanced attack.
“This team doesn’t care who scores as long as we get the job done. We have a ‘next-person-up’ mentality, so the five players who end the game for us aren’t always going to be the five who started the game. It’s usually the five who are working best,” explained McGettigan. “The bench is there to be part of it and they love every minute of it. It’s a true team.”
W-S countered with five players of their own scoring between four and nine points in the first half.
Hornets’ seniors Maddy Reichmann (14 points) and Jayla Ralph (seven) did all they could to keep their team right there with Belmont throughout the second half. The duo each hit key 3s to put W–S ahead 57–54 with 3:10 remaining, and then Reichmann knocked down another basket with 1:23 to play to give the Hornets their final lead at 59–57.
Reichmann led all scorers with 19 points. Ralph sank four 3s on her way to 16 points, and senior Kayden Groom scored 10 points before fouling out with 3:25 to play.
Junior Tori Nodolf deadlocked the score at 59–59 when she knocked down a basket while getting fouled with 1:11 left. She missed the free throw, but a teammate boarded the miss and got the ball out to Rogers who buried her second 3 of the game to put the Braves ahead to stay at 62–59.
Rogers finished with a season-high 12 points to go along with eight rebounds and three assists. Nodolf tallied seven points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, while Hodgson dished out three assists to go with three steals and a block.
Junior Kennedy Howell, who torched the Hornets for 23 points in the Braves’ 63–48 regular season victory over the Hornets on Dec. 7, was held to nine points but also led the team with four steals.
Senior Ashley Freeman contributed seven points, six boards and three assists. Sophomore Lainey Riechers and freshman Morgan Freeman scored six points apiece for the Braves, who have won a conference and regional title in the same season for the first time in school history.
The WIAA Division 5 sectional semifinal will be played at Mineral Point High School on Thursday, March 3, with the #1-seeded Braves facing #2-seeded and #7-ranked Highland (24–3) in the rubber-match between these two Six Rivers West co-champions.
Belmont won 61-50 in Highland on Dec. 9, and the Cardinals bested the Braves 53–29 in Belmont on Jan. 28.
Thursday’s winner advances to the sectional championship game at Royall High School in Elroy on Saturday, March 5, against the winner of Thursday’s other semifinal between #2-ranked Bangor (25–2) and #3-ranked Blair-Taylor (26–1). Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.
WIAA DIVISION 5 REGIONAL FINAL
Wauzeka…… 34 25 – 59
Belmont……. 38 27 – 65
Wauzeka-Steuben – Hurda 5, Ralph 16, Berger 3, Olsen 6, Groom 10, Reichmann 19. Totals – 24 3-6 59.
Belmont – Lainey Riechers 6, Mia Hodgson 2, Rylee Rogers 12, Chloe Crapp 13, Ashley Freeman 7, Morgan Freeman 6, Tori Nodolf 7, Reese Runde 3, Kennedy Howell 9. Totals – 23 11-21 65.
3-point goals– WS 8 (Hurda 1, Ralph 4, Berger 1, Reichmann 2), B 8 (Riechers 2, Rogers 2, Crapp 4). Total fouls– WS 15, B 10. Fouled out– WS: Groom.