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Notre Dame win sets up showdown with Pirates

By Greg Bates

GREEN BAY – Getting a win in the Fox River Classic Conference isn’t something Sara Rohde takes for granted.

But the Notre Dame Academy girls’ basketball coach knows her team’s performance against visiting Pulaski Jan. 7 was sloppy and a “little unorthodox.”

The previous day in practice, senior Emily Cribben suffered a sprained ankle and missed the Red Raiders’ game – that meant a new starting lineup.

Blend that together with the Notre Dame girls maybe looking ahead one game on the schedule to undefeated and top-ranked Bay Port, and there are your reasons for a lackluster 58-49 victory over Pulaski.

“It didn’t get that close,” Rhode said. “We let them hang around.”

Notre Dame, which is ranked No. 4 in Division 2 in the latest WisSports.net Coaches Poll, led by 16 points, 51-36, with 4:59 remaining before Pulaski started its feverish comeback.

“We’ve got to finish,” said Notre Dame guard Charley Apple, who scored a team-high 16 points. “We need to keep going strong through the whole game and not let our guard down.”

Pulaski (6-4 overall, 3-3 FRCC) cut its deficit to eight, 55-47, following a 12-4 run capped by a three-point play by Maggie Hernandez.

Notre Dame (8-2, 6-0 FRCC) converted on four free throws in the final minute to close out the victory.

“You dig yourself a hole and you’re always grinding to get out,” Pulaski coach Doug McElrone said. “It’s tough.”

Junior Sammy Opichka added 14 points for the Tritons, as her and Apple combined for 30 points.

“It makes it a lot harder for teams to stop us because we have the inside and out,” Apple said. “We have good ball movement; we work together and give everybody open looks.”

Apple drained four of her team’s five made three-pointers.

“Charley hit some big shots for us, and I thought she had a good floor game in general,” Rohde said. “She had a nice game.”

Notre Dame had a strong start to the game – leading 11-2 – even with a revamped lineup with Ashley Lemens in for the injured Cribben.

“Ashley plays a lot of minutes, but it was a new lineup and we had to get used to that a little bit,” Rohde said. “There were times we get lackadaisical. Instead of locking down and getting stops, we go through the motions.”

Notre Dame can now look ahead to the showdown against Bay Port (10-0, 6-0) Jan. 10 with first place on the line in the FRCC.

The Pirates took a big hit in mid-December when star Emma Nagel – who hit the game-winning shot in last year’s Division 1 state championship game – tore her posterior cruciate ligament in her right knee and will miss the remainder of the season.

“That’s definitely a game-changer, but they’re still a good team,” Apple said.

“Even without Emma Nagel, they’re tough,” Rohde said. “They get after it, and they’re tough on defense. They have some good guards that move the ball well.”

McKenzie Johnson and Emma Krueger have upped their games since Nagel went down.

The two are averaging 25 points combined, as Bay Port is winning on average by 24.2 points per game.

The Pirates won both contests against Notre Dame last season en route to the conference crown.

“It’s an important game,” Rohde said. “Is it life or death? No, it’s not. Life will go on either way regardless of what happens, but it’s a big game as far as the conference race goes.”

Apple said for her team to pull off a victory in round one against Bay Port, it needs to play together.

“When we play together, we play a lot better,” Apple said. “If we’re all there contributing and playing our roles, then we’ll do fine.”

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