By Greg Bates
ASHWAUBENON – First-year Bay Port girls’ basketball coach Dennis Gladwell said he has been waiting for his team to have a breakout game.
It might have taken the majority of the regular season, but the Pirates players finally came through for their coach.
Bay Port used a combination of stifling defense and hot first-half shooting to pull away and earn a resounding 73-26 victory over Ashwaubenon Friday night.
“The girls followed the game plan,” Gladwell said. “We had a good plan, and we worked hard in practice. We broke down the defenses we want to play, so they all knew where they needed to be and how to execute it – it was perfect. Everything I asked them to do in the game, they followed through with.”
The Pirates (6-10) have now rattled off four straight wins after starting the season by dropping 10 of their first 12 games.
“They’re starting to play as a team instead of individual basketball,” said Gladwell. “We’re starting to believe in ourselves and realizing we can play.”
Seven of Bay Port’s losses have come to state-ranked opponents, including No. 1-ranked Kimberly in Division 1 and a pair of losses to Notre Dame Academy, the top-ranked team in Division 2.
“The games we played against Kimberly, Appleton East, Hortonville, De Pere and Notre Dame helped us out tremendously,” Gladwell said. “We’re hitting on all cylinders right now and playing good basketball.”
With the Pirates holding a 6-4 lead, they cranked up their defense with full-court pressure.
Opportunity after opportunity followed with easy looks on the offensive end Bay Port.
Over the next 10 minutes, the Pirates went on a 31-2 run, led by 16 points from sophomore guard Kyla Hendricks.
Bay Port hit 10 of its first 14 shots.
Being down 37-6 only 12 1/2 minutes into the game spelled trouble for Ashwaubenon (5-10).
“We didn’t come ready to play,” Ashwaubenon coach Nicky Van Laanen said. “You’ve got to give Bay Port credit – they came ready to play. They were hot at the beginning and hit a couple of shots and threw the first punch. Instead of us punching back, we decided to cower and put our heads down and stop playing.”
Up 42-14 at halftime, the Pirates didn’t let up against the Jaguars, who fell 55-41 to Bay Port Dec. 18.
The Pirates got a career-high 27 points from Hendricks, who hit seven of her team’s 12 3-pointers and shot 10-for-14 from the field overall.
With leading scorer Emma Krueger sidelined with a hip injury, Gladwell said he was pleased to see some of his girls step up and play bigger roles.
The plan is for Krueger to rest until the postseason, Gladwell said.
Sophie Vandeyacht came through with 10 points and 12 rebounds, while freshman Ellie McDermid added 12 points for Bay Port.
“I’ll take a double-double from her every night,” Gladwell said about Vandeyacht. “In the last four or five games, she’s been averaging 12-13 points and about nine rebounds a game. She’s been playing good.”
Ashwaubenon was led in scoring by Bri Lambrecht and Hannah Hutto with six points apiece.
With tournament time around the corner, Gladwell said if his girls continue to play solid pressure defense and knock down shots, they’re going to be a tough out.
“I hope people are looking at us and saying, ‘Their record doesn’t make them that good,’” Gladwell said. “Records don’t mean anything right now. It depends on how you build all season, and we’ve been building and building. Each game has been a new piece of the puzzle that gets us to where we need to be when it comes to tournament time.”