Grzesk shakes off nerves in Notre Dame victory
By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – Gracie Grzesk was admittedly nervous in her first high school postseason basketball game for Notre Dame Academy.
After logging a victory, the freshman shook off the nerves and was primed for her team’s WIAA Division 2 regional final game against West De Pere Saturday night.
Grzesk settled in and scored a game- and career-high 26 points to propel the top-seeded Tritons to an 83-52 win over the No. 2-seeded Phantoms.
“She got that first game under her belt, and you could tell she was confident in what she was doing,” said Notre Dame head coach Sara Rohde about Grzesk. “She played the way we know she’s capable of.”
West De Pere made it a point to key on Gzresk’s teammate and fellow post Sammy Opichka.
Once Opichka exited 3:34 into the game after picking up her second foul, Grzesk went to work.
“It was an opportunity for me to step up and take control and for everyone else on the court, too,” said Grzesk, who scored only five points in Notre Dame’s postseason opener the night before. “It was good for us. It was good for our younger kids to have the opportunity to do that. The mismatches were obvious on offense, and we took advantage of it.”
Opichka, who came in averaging a team-high 17.9 points per game this season, had season-low figures in points (six) and shot attempts (four).
Her teammates picked up the slack, with Hope Barington coming off the bench to score 19 points.
Charley Apple added 10.
“We know anybody can step up on any given night,” Rohde said. “That’s what makes our team special – anybody can play, and we are well balanced.”
Notre Dame, which tallied 80 or more points in a game for the ninth time this season, captured its third straight regional championship and eighth in 10 seasons under Rohde.
Opichka converted a fastbreak layup to give the Tritons a 10-5 lead, but then she picked up her second foul.
With Opichka on the bench, West De Pere went on a 10-4 run to go up 15-14, which was capped by a three-point play from Alexa Thomson.
Notre Dame, which has won 22 straight games and is ranked No. 1 in Division 2 in the final, regular-season WisSports.net Coaches Poll, responded by closing out the first half on a 26-9 surge.
“Initially, there was so much adrenaline those first few minutes, and we needed to slow down,” Rohde said. “We had to look at what they were in defensively, because they caught us off guard with their triangle-and-2 to start. Our girls slowed down and looked for the easy baskets, which we got by moving the ball. Defensively, we knew we had to stay in front and limit their threes because they are a great 3-point shooting team.”
Grzesk scored 10 of her team’s final 12 points of the opening half to help the Tritons take a 40-24 lead into the locker room.
“We had a good game plan,” West De Pere head coach Chris Abaray said. “We executed it well early on. We wanted to take Sammy and Charley out of their game – we threw some junk defenses at them, and it worked. Unfortunately, with Notre Dame, that’s a balanced breakfast they’ve got here, and they make you pay in so many ways. When you take one thing away, they got another player. Grzesk had a huge first half for them. We were giving away some back cuts, and their size bothered us.”
Notre Dame (24-1) scored the first 10 points out of halftime for a 50-24 lead.
For the rest of the game, No. 7-ranked West De Pere (17-5) couldn’t drop its deficit under 21 points.
Thomson had 14 of her 17 points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.
West De Pere was led in scoring by Casey Jepson, who registered 22 points and missed only one field-goal attempt.
The loss meant the end of a successful run for the seniors on the Phantoms squad.
It’s a big class of eight with four starters: Jepson, Thomson, Bailey Baeten and Rebekah Buboltz.
“They’re an unrated group,” Abaray said. “There are some big-name players in this area and some successful teams. We’ve had state-ranked teams these last couple of years. These girls have been a part of three straight conference titles and a nice conference win streak. Casey and Alexa are playing Division III in college, but they wouldn’t always get the press clippings other schools get. They’ve got nothing to be ashamed of as far as what they’ve accomplished as a group.”
As for Notre Dame, it advances to sectionals where it will face off against Freedom, Xavier or Shawano – which were all No. 1 seeds in their respective regional.
The WIAA will reseed all four teams and announce matchups Feb. 14.
Sectional semifinal games will be played Feb. 18 and the final Feb. 20.
“We need to keep up our energy and keep playing consistent like we have all season,” Grzesk said.