By Greg Bates
DE PERE – Heading into Friday’s playoff game, West De Pere girls’ basketball coach Chris Abaray didn’t know the status of his star Alexa Thomson.
The junior suffered a contusion in her left leg and a hurt ankle in a loss to Oshkosh West Feb. 17.
“We were afraid we might have lost her for the season,” Abaray said.
Thomson suited up for No. 4-seeded West De Pere, and by all indications, no one in her home gym would have known anything was wrong with her.
She scored 30 points to help pace the Phantoms to an 89-70 victory over No. 5 Kaukauna in a WIAA Division 2 regional semifinal game.
“She’s all heart,” Abaray said. “She’s as tough of a kid as you can ask for.”
Thompson also tallied 30 points in the first game of the season against Green Bay Preble.
“I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” she said. “They all had great games.”
Casey Jepson, who came into the contest averaging 9.6 points per game, poured in a career-high 26 points and was 11-for-13 at the free-throw line for West De Pere.
Imani Ninham added 12 points, and Bailey Baeten put in 11.
The Phantoms, who are ranked No. 8 in Division 2 in the latest WisSports.net Coaches Poll, lit up the scoreboard in its playoff opener.
The 89 points is a season-high and marked the fourth time in the last 17 games the team generated 80-plus points.
“We push and play fast,” Abaray said. “We have girls that aren’t afraid to put the ball on the floor, go to the rim and kick the ball out. We get lots of shots up in practice in transition, and we’re not afraid. They have the green light – they know what to do.”
West De Pere hit 56.9 percent (29-for-51) of its shots for the game and was 23-for-35 (65.7 percent) from two-point range.
“We were definitely on tonight,” Thomson said. “No one was selfish. We kept looking for each other, and whoever was open, we got it there.”
In the first half, the Phantoms shot 67 percent from the field and put up 51 points.
Kaukauna’s head coach Autumn Hennes said her team had difficulties with the Phantoms’ fast-tempo offense.
“I prefer to slow it down and run our offense,” she said. “Their defense is so fierce it forces the opponent to play quick, and then it leads to turnovers.”
West De Pere (19-4) was up eight points with 3:51 remaining in the opening half but went into the locker room on a 10-2 run to go up 51-35.
Kaukauna (11-13) cut its deficit to six, 61-55, with 8:33 showing on the clock.
Chloe Van Zeeland, who scored a team-high 24 points, had a pair of critical baskets during the stretch.
West De Pere responded with a 12-3 spurt to go up 73-58.
“If a couple of possessions would have gone the other way, who knows what would have happened,” Abaray said.
The Phantoms hit 12 free throws in the final 3:25 to secure the victory.
The team was 25-for-32 from the line overall.
The victory set up a showdown at No. 1-seeded Notre Dame (17-6) on Saturday, Feb. 29.
The No. 5-ranked team in Division 2 is coming off a 70-29 pounding of Fox Valley Lutheran in the opening round of playoffs.
“They’re a great team, but we will give it our all,” said Thomson, “If we play how we did tonight, we’ll be fine.”