By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – It was a tale of two halves during the De Pere and West De Pere girls’ basketball game Dec. 12.
Trailing 34-27 at intermission, the Redbirds outscored the Phantoms by 14 points in the second half on their way to a 63-56 victory at West De Pere High School.
It was De Pere’s (5-0 overall) fifth straight victory to begin the season.
“We had much better energy and defensive effort in the second half,” said De Pere head coach Jeremy Boileau. “We probably had double-digit turnovers in the first half, so we stressed the need to clean that up. We received good performances from several individuals.”
After winning its first four games of the season, West De Pere (4-2) has lost back-to-back contests.
“Our girls played hard,” said West De Pere head coach Chris Abaray. “I have no complaints there. We have yet to put together a complete game execution-wise. It’s something we as coaches and players have to work together to get better at. I have no doubt we’ll get there.”
Trailing by seven at the break, the Redbirds began the second 18 minutes with a 21-5 run.
“One of my assistant coaches told me at the 10-minute mark of the second half West De Pere had only scored two points to begin the half,” Boileau said. “I knew we had done a nice job defensively to start, but I was surprised to hear that.”
Abaray was also complimentary of the Redbirds.
“I thought De Pere made some nice adjustments to start the second half and handled our pressure better,” he said. “We didn’t consistently push tempo and forced lots of tough shots early in the half that swung the tempo the other way, and De Pere capitalized.”
De Pere’s Jordan Meulemans, who led all scorers with 19 points, hit six straight free throws down the stretch to slam the door shut on the Phantoms.
Meulemans is a Division I recruit who has received multiple offers, including from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“Rightfully so, Jordan draws lots of attention from the opposing team,” said Boileau. “She did a great job of being strong on the boards and getting her teammates involved.”
The 6-foot Meulemans corralled 13 rebounds.
“Overall, I thought our girls did a nice job defending Muelemans throughout the game,” Abaray said. “She’s a tremendous player and did a nice job finding teammates open in space.”
Freshman Claire Bjorge and senior Sophia McCarty added 14 and 12 points, respectively, for the Redbirds, who were playing without second-leading scorer Oakley Witteck, who was out with an injury.
Trailing 21-20 halfway through the first half, the Phantoms ended the first 18 minutes with a 14-6 run to take the momentum into the locker room.
“In the first half, we were able to push tempo through forcing turnovers and getting De Pere off balance,” Abaray said. “It was what we wanted to do … take the game to them. We had a few blunders at the end of the half that made an 11-point lead only seven going into the break. That’s something we have to clean up.”
The West De Pere trio of Casey Jepson (seven points), Alexa Thomson (seven) and Bailey Baeten (six) combined for 20 first-half points.
“West De Pere is a matchup problem for lots of teams with their quickness,” Boileau said. “They aren’t the tallest team, but they make up for it with their speed.”
The Phantoms cut the lead to 52-49 with 3:34 left, but Meulemans hit a long 3-pointer from the top of the key to restore order for De Pere.
With less than 20 seconds remaining, Baeten, who scored 13 points, hit her own three to cut the deficit to 59-56.
Meulemans then drained four free throws combined on De Pere’s final two possessions.
Sophomore McKenna Ciesielczyk, who missed most of the first half with foul trouble, led the Redbirds with seven assists.
“McKenna also impacted the game with her defense,” said Boileau. “Her matchup was Jepson (West De Pere’s leading scorer), and she held her to nine points. Baeten was hurting us, especially late in the game, so we adjusted to putting McKenna on her defensively.”
Thomson led West De Pere with 15 points.
With the uncertainty of COVID-19, Boileau said his team is thankful to have the opportunity to play.
“We have lots of games crammed into our schedule,” he said. “We don’t know what tomorrow brings with COVID-19, so we purposely scheduled lots of games. Right now, we’re in a good groove, and the girls are doing everything right. I’m hopeful the Green Bay FRCC (Fox River Classic Conference) schools (Preble and Southwest) can play later in the season and we can get some fans in the stands.”
De Pere hosts Pulaski Tuesday, Dec. 15.
The Phantoms are also in action Dec. 15 when they host Bay Port.