MONROE – Cuba City’s quest for a fourth straight trip to the state tournament came up just short. And, by just short, I mean just inches short.
Senior Emily Wiederholt’s game-winning 3-point attempt with time running down caromed off the front of the rim as the #3-ranked Mineral Point Pointers held on to defeat the #5-ranked Lady Cubans, 56-55, in a WIAA Division 4 sectional semifinal final nail-biter held at Monroe High School on Thursday, March 3.
“Em’s done a great job all year for us. I thought Jessi (Marti) made a great read on the pass. The shot didn’t fall,” said Cuba City head coach Jeff Pustina.
The win was third this season for the Pointers (24-2 overall) over the Cubans (22-3), and they advanced on to the state tournament for the first time in school history by defeating Wisconsin Heights, 58-54, in Baraboo on Saturday afternoon.
Cuba City held a 55-54 lead with 1:21 following a steal and coast-to-coast layup by Marti, but the Pointers grabbed it right back on a basket by senior center Jessica Schultz with 0:34 left on the clock.
A tough offensive foul called again Marti with 18.4 seconds to go forced the Cubans to put the Pointers on the line, however senior Clara Chambers hit just one of two to put her team ahead 57-55.
Following a timeout to set up their final offensive series, Marti took the ball up the court and looked for an opening to drive down the lane, but the Pointers bottled her up with a triple-team. She passed the ball off to Wiederholt beyond the 3-point line and the senior got off an open shot that was just off the mark. The Pointers gathered in the rebound as the final horn sounded on the Cubans’ season and state tournament run.
“We ran an option play where we had a couple of options for a shot there. Mineral Point probably knew that (having Jessi with the ball) was going to be the plan. We told them if it got clogged up swing it back to Emily. I thought the decision to work it to Emily was a really good decision. (Mineral Point) jammed up the lane and we had a pretty good look at it. They just did a great job defending there,” admitted Pustina.
As for the decision to go for a 2-point basket and a tie or a 3-point basket and a win, the Cuba City coach noted he didn’t care either way. He just wanted a shot to go down. “We would have taken a two and gone into overtime,” he added. “I didn’t care if it was a two or a three.”
The game was nip-and-tuck the entire night with the lead see-sawing back and forth between the two teams 13 times before the Pointers earned it for good with just 34 seconds to play. The teams were also tied on 11 other occasions during the game.
“We know each other so well, it made it difficult on both ends for both teams,” said Pustina, whose team lost to the Pointers twice during the regular season, 55-43, at MP in January, and 57-53, at home just two weeks earlier.
Tied at 31 all at the halftime intermission, the Pointers opened up the game’s largest lead early in the second half on back-to-back 3-pointers by junior guard Cassie Bossert and Schultz.
“I don’t know how many threes Schultz has hit this year, but she hit that one,” commented Pustina.
Marti answered back with a 3-pointer of her own and a pair of three-point plays to put the Cubans into a 42-40 lead with 11:35 to play.
“That’s typical Jessi. She’s going to do whatever it takes to win basketball games and help her team,” said Pustina about the Cubans’ all-time leading scorer. “We gave her the basketball tonight at the point to allow her to create offense, and she did a lot of good things for us.”
Their lead swelled to 48-43 on free throws by junior guard Ally Averkamp and senior forward Kaitlyn Kaiser with just over seven minutes remaining, but the Pointers responded with an 11-4 run behind five points by Bossert and four by junior Destinee Kruser to grab a 54-52 lead with 2:19 to go.
Bossert sank three treys and finished with a team-high 14 points to lead the Pointers, who have now won 22 consecutive games heading into their state semifinal game against Eau Claire Regis (22-4) at the Resch Center in Green Bay on Thursday, March 10.
Schultz added 12 points and Kruser chipped in with 10, while high-scoring guards Syd Staver and Chambers were limited to eight and four points, respectively.
“I thought we did what we wanted to do tonight. We were not going to let Chambers or Staver go off against us. When you do that, you’re going to give up some other things. A couple of their other kids stepped up. You have to give them credit. They did a great job. Good luck to them,” Pustina said.
Marti, a Northern State University recruit, finished her outstanding prep career with a game-high 24-point performance on Thursday to end her season with 477 points and run her school record scoring mark to 1,596 career points.
“Everyone gave a they had. The coaches did an amazing job preparing us for this game. They know how to get us to win. They made some tough shots and we made some tough shots, too. We just couldn’t get that last shot to fall,” said Marti. “Cuba City gave me everything and more than I wanted. This program made me into the player I am today. I couldn’t have done it without the coaches and all the other players I played with here over the years.”
Kaiser, who is scheduled to sign a Letter of Intent with Clarke University this Wednesday, netted 12 points and Wiederholt tallied six points in their final prep games with the Cubans.
“We both played as hard as we could. It just came down to a few late shots and that was the difference,” Kaiser states. “It’s been an amazing ride. Me and Jessi were part of a team and career that is surreal. This is not something many people have experienced in their high school careers. This is something you can’t ask for anything more. It’s been awesome.”
Marti and Kaiser were four-year varsity players at Cuba City and they finish their careers with a tremendous 102-6 overall record. They were members of two state championship teams, four regional championship teams, three SWAL championship teams and three sectional champion teams. Wiederholt and the team’s fourth senior, forward Katya Spielvogel, each spent three years on varsity with the Cubans.
“I’m really proud of these girls. They’ve had four great years at Cuba City. They’ve excelled in the classroom, They’ve excelled on the court, I’m proud to be able to coach some really great athletes and some great kids,” commented Pustina.
“It was a great team atmosphere this season. All year long the seniors were great with the younger players. When you have kids who are athletic, talented and their seniors and they lead by example, that’s pretty special and you can have some really good things happen. I couldn’t ask for anything better out of those seniors,” he added. “ I really thought we grew immensely as a basketball team this season. Our entire team improved so much. To give us a chance here in the last second to get to a sectional final, that’s pretty special to have a team grow that much.”
WIAA DIVISION 4 SECTIONAL SEMIFINAL
Mineral Point…. 31 26 – 57
Cuba City……… 31 24 – 55
Mineral Point – Staver 8, Chambers 4, Kruser 10, Qualley 2, Reichling 6, Bossert 14, Schmitz 1, Schultz 12. Totals – 20 12-16 57.
Cuba City – Morgan Vosberg 5, Elizabeth Misky 3, Jessi Marti 24, Ally Averkamp 2, Megan Hartl 1, Emily Wiederholt 6, Kaitlyn Kaiser 12, Katya Spielvogel 2. Totals – 19 15-20 55.
3-point goals– MP 5 (Chambers 1, Bossert 3, Schultz 1), CC 2 (Marti 2). Total fouls– MP 16, CC 17.