Notre Dame girls win battle of top teams
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – The Notre Dame Academy girls’ basketball team passed its final test before the WIAA postseason begins next week.
Fueled by a 32-4 run to end the game, the Tritons, the No. 1-ranked team in the latest Wissports.net Division 2 Coaches Poll, posted a 67-40 road victory over De Pere Feb. 6.
It marked the second time this season Notre Dame (22-2) scored a big win over De Pere (21-2), the No. 7-ranked team in Division 1.
The Tritons beat the Redbirds 73-47 Jan. 12, but the rematch was much closer than the score indicated – at least for the first 24 minutes.
With 12:22 remaining in the game, De Pere surged ahead 36-35, only to see Notre Dame score 32 of the last 36 points on the night.
“This was a good test for us,” said Notre Dame head coach Sara Rohde, whose team won its 20th consecutive game. “(De Pere head coach) Jeremy (Boileau) and I had talked about wanting to play this game because it would prepare both of our teams for the tournament, and we won’t see each other in the playoffs.”
The game was originally scheduled for Feb. 4, but the winter storm that day postponed the rematch two days.
The Tritons pushed the defensive pressure throughout, something Rohde said she stressed to her team.
“Our pressure led to lots of transition baskets late because we were pushing, and De Pere might have gotten a bit tired,” she said. “We like to run as a team.”
When Redbirds post player Sophia McCarty picked up her fourth foul in the second half, Notre Dame’s Sarah Hardwick took over down low.
The junior scored 17 of her game-high 21 points after intermission with an array of strong moves around the basket.
“Sarah is strong in the post,” Rohde said. “She’s come a long way and is getting more confident. When she’s aggressive inside, it opens up our perimeter.”
After Jordan Meulemans, a Division 1 recruit, nailed a step-back 3-pointer to pull De Pere within 35-33, Oakley Witteck gave the Redbirds their first lead since early in the game.
De Pere’s first four baskets of the second half were from beyond the arc – two by Meulemans and one each by Avery Bierowski and Witteck.
“I’m proud of our girls, but we had too many turnovers,” said Boileau. “I know we didn’t come out with the win, but there are lots of positives we can take from this loss. Notre Dame is good at what they do. Even though we turned the ball over early, we were able to stay in the game. To take the lead in the second half was awesome to see. Notre Dame might be the most athletic and quickest team in the state. One or two passes and the ball is in the hoop.”
The Tritons jumped out to a 15-5 lead behind Sammy Opichka’s eight points early on, but De Pere pulled to within 19-16 with the aid of McCarty’s strong play inside, as she scored two buckets and added a free throw during the spurt.
Notre Dame’s lead was cut to 29-24 lead heading into intermission after Meulemans hit a long three a split second before the buzzer sounded.
With more games crammed into a condensed amount of time, Boileau said it’s tough to work on fundamentals with the lack of practice time.
“It’s a two-way street,” he said. “It’s great playing more games, but when you need to work on things, sometimes we’ve been forced to do that during actual games instead of practice.”
Opichka dropped in 16 points for the Tritons, while Meulemans and McCarty led the Redbirds with 12 and 11, respectively.
With regionals beginning next week, the Tritons will host the winner of No. 4 Luxemburg-Casco/No. 5 Ashwaubenon, while De Pere will host the winner of No. 4 Bay Port/No. 5 Green Bay Preble Friday, Feb. 12.
Regional final games are Saturday, Feb. 13.
“It’s weird,” said Boileau. “We could potentially play Bay Port for the fourth time this season. There are no second chances in the playoffs – that’s what makes it so fun.