By Greg Bates
DE PERE – With the game on the line, most people in the gym figured if the De Pere girls’ basketball team was going to get a big hoop, it would be from sophomore Jordan Meulemans.
Not everyone had that thought.
Senior Ellie Schneider made the biggest shot of her career, draining a 3-pointer with 43 seconds remaining to give De Pere a one-point lead over rival West De Pere.
From there, the Redbirds’ defense staved off a Phantoms’ comeback to secure a 64-59 non-conference victory at home Dec. 30.
“Jordan has been doing a great job, and she gets lots of attention,” said De Pere head coach Jeremy Boileau. “We need Ellie to continue to be an aggressive shooter, driver and scorer. I’m not surprised – she does it every practice.”
The three-pointer was Schneider’s fourth of the night, as she tallied a game- and career-high 22 points.
The Redbirds led for all but 23 seconds but nearly squandered the game.
De Pere (5-2) held its biggest lead of the night, 10 points, with a comfortable 48-38 advantage after Meulemans converted a three-point play with 9:47 remaining in the second half.
But West De Pere (6-3) wasn’t done.
Casey Jepson tallied a hoop and got a quick steal and layup in a matter of six seconds to cut the Phantoms’ deficit to three.
The next trip down the court, Rebekah Buboltz nailed a three to tie it at 50 with 4:41 left in regulation.
De Pere got the lead back at 57-56 after Meulemans hit a free throw.
That set up a Jepson three-pointer at the 1:06 mark.
“She knocked down that three, and I knew we needed something else to get us back,” said Schneider, who came into the game averaging 12.5 points per game this season. “That was an important shot, but thankfully I made it.”
Schneider’s three put De Pere up 60-59.
West De Pere had a chance to take the lead, but Keely Dorn corralled a steal for the Redbirds and was fouled.
Even though Dorn missed the front end of a one-and-one, teammate Sophia McCarthy pulled down an offensive rebound to reset her team.
Meulemans and Schneider each hit two free throws in the final 12.6 seconds to seal the victory.
“Our biggest saying this year is, ‘together,’” Schneider said. “Through that and positive leadership, we’ve managed to stay positive and come back from adversity we’ve hit throughout the season.”
Even when trailing by 10 points, West De Pere head coach Chris Abaray knew his team wasn’t done.
“We don’t quit, even when we’re down,” Abaray said. “We did lots of things to dig ourselves that hole, so that was disappointing, but they’re fixable errors.”
West De Pere wasn’t at its full offensive strength all evening.
The team’s leading scorer coming into the game, Alexa Thomson (17.9 points per game), picked up three first-half fouls.
She had to sit stretches late in the first half and during the second before fouling out in the final minute.
Teammate Imani Ninham was averaging 14.9 points per game entering the night and was shut down on the offensive end.
“Those girls can shoot and score in and out, and our girls bought into the preparation to try and challenge those girls,” Boileau said. “Holding Thomson to four points and Ninham to five, I’m proud of the effort our girls put into getting after things defensively.”
With Thomson and Ninham not scoring at all in the second half, Jepson picked up the slack with a team-high 20 points.
Bailey Baeten added 12 points.
“De Pere put lots of effort into making nothing easy for Thomson tonight,” Abaray said. “It was nice to see her teammates step up in big ways when we needed buckets.”
Meulemans, who bumped her season scoring average to 17.7, came through with 21 points for De Pere.
McCarty chipped in 14 in the paint.
“With McCarty trying to make herself assertive in the post, that gave us another element to work off of,” Boileau said. “Other girls stepped up. Maybe they didn’t get double digits in points, but they’re not hesitating to get involved.”
The De Pere players know the early-season victory kept it playing well.
“This game leads us into Friday [Green Bay Preble] and they’re a good team,” Schneider said. “This is great momentum going into that game.”
Boileau is hoping to carry over this team’s play on the court into the new decade.
“I’m definitely happy where we’re at in 2019, and excited to get things going Friday,” Boileau said.