On the doorstep to yet another state tournament, the Cuba City girls basketball team faced off against the No. 1 ranked team in Division 4. The next step wasn't meant to be for the Cubans as they were stopped short of their 14th appearance at the state tournament with a 37-57 loss to Neilsville at Mauston Saturday night.
The Cubans tried to keep pace with the Warriors trailing by just three at the end of the first quarter. Neillsville then extended their lead to seven early in the second quarter, but the Cubans started a comeback and tied the score at 18 midway through the second quarter. The run was short-lived for the Cubans as Neillsville quickly responded with five quick points to regain the lead. The Cubans went to the locker room at the half down by five as Neillsville led 23-18.
A 3-14 third quarter was too much for the Cubans to overcome as Neillsville powered their way to a 16-point lead over the Cubans. Cuba City head coach Jeff Pustina said the first two quarters weren't great quarters statistically. "They made 6-7 field goals which were three-pointers and had we not allowed that to happen the score and their lead would have made a difference. We struggled a little bit offensively, but I thought at the half we were in good shape."
Chloe Pustina led the Cubans with 14 points while Sam Steines added eight.
"I thought we just couldn't crack their zone, which created problems getting the ball inside to Mollie (Wedige)," Pustina said. "Neillsville shot it well and we didn't. We gambled more as we tried to catch up, which caused more problems."
In the sectional semi-final game on Thursday in Waunakee, the lady Cubans advanced to Saturday night's game with a 58-48 win over Deerfield. With the Cuban fan support split between the Kohl Center and Waunakee, the Cubans kept their composure and kept pushing.
Down by five at the end of the first, the Cubans powered their way back to a 26-23 half-time lead before Deerfield pulled within one point at the end of the third quarter. A huge fourth quarter for the young Cubans saw them outscore Deerfield 21-12.
Pustina said he really enjoyed the season. "I really like the team and each game I do a pregame speech and they have already have their motivational quotes prior to the games," Pustina said. "I've been impressed with the way they clung together. I was extremely impressed by the fans that showed up (at Waunakee) and I think Sam (Steines) was again probably one that stepped up as a leader."
Freshman guard, Chloe Pustina paced the Cubans with 15 points while freshman center Wedige added 14. Graduating senior, Sam Steines added 10 points.
The Cubans return all but one player for next year's team, which is loaded with young talent. Cuba City ended their season with an overall record of 23-3.
"There is no question about it, I was pleasantly surprised about the victory number this year and it seems they (the team) come together to get the W's most of the time this year," Pustina said of this year's team. "I would like to think that once we shore up the inconsistencies and have each player improve their own personal goals we will be solid. We sometimes have to take baby steps to get where we have to go."