By Rich Palzewic
SHEBOYGAN – Hasthtag105 (#105) – it’s been the motto of the De Pere girls’ basketball team since the second game of the season.
That’s when the Redbirds lost a 105-66 game Nov. 26 to the hands of Germantown.
The rematch March 5 had a much different outcome.
Behind 22 points from Jordan Meulemans and 18 from Claire Bjorge, De Pere (24-4) is heading to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 State Tournament next weekend at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
The No. 3-seeded Redbirds beat the No. 1-seed Warhawks, 72-66, in a sectional final game at Sheboygan North High School.
“That second game of the season was embarrassing for us,” De Pere Head Coach Jeremy Boileau said. “That was (Germantown’s) first game of the season and our second. We’ve grown lots as a team since then – we weren’t ready to play that game. We pride ourselves on taking care of the ball and playing good defense.”
The Redbirds held University of Connecticut (UConn) verbal commit Kamorea “KK” Arnold to 26 points after she scored 33 in the first game of the season.
“You’re not going to stop her,” Boileau said about Arnold. “You have to contain her and let the other girls beat you. She got her points, but many of those points were well-earned. McKenna Ciesielczyk did a phenomenal job on her defensively.”
In a back-and-forth first half, Germantown, the defending Division 1 state champs, took a 30-29 lead into halftime.
The sophomore Bjorge had nine first-half points, including hitting all six of her free throws.
“We wanted to get to state all season,” Bjorge said. “To have (the state tournament) in Green Bay with our fans there will be awesome. This was a fun game to play in – it was a great atmosphere.”
Meulemans, a Division I commit to Butler University, had only four points in the first half but came alive after intermission.
“Jordan stayed locked in,” Boileau said. “She’s a big reason we’re going to state. We have to keep the ball in her hands. In the second half, we did a bit more to give her some space. It was great to see her stay mentally and physically tough. She came through in the second half.”
Meulemans said she did her best not to get frustrated during the first half.
“In the first half when I wasn’t getting my shots to fall, my teammates stepped up,” she said. “I needed to step up in the second half – I didn’t want it to be my last game. When I’m not scoring, I still have to make my team better.”
Meulemans said she and Arnold chatted some during the game.
“We were talking back and forth, but it was so loud in the gym, we couldn’t hear a word we were saying to each other,” she said.
In the second half, the Warhawks took a 35-31 lead, but De Pere’s Oakley Witteck nailed a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one.
With Germantown up 46-43, Meulemans tied it with a conventional 3-point play with about 10 minutes left.
Leading 54-53, Meulemans went on a 10-0 herself for a 64-53 lead with less than three minutes remaining.
However, the Warhawks wouldn’t go away.
They got to within 67-63 with less than a minute showing on the clock, but Ciesielczyk stopped the bleeding with a bucket to put the Redbirds up five.
With Germantown gaining momentum, Meulemans blocked a 3-point attempt with 30 seconds remaining to help seal the game.
Bjorge hit three more free throws in the closing seconds for the final points.
Ciesielczyk added 11 points for De Pere, while Avery Bierowski chipped in 10.
The Redbirds are making their ninth state appearance and play Friday, March 11, at a yet-to-be-determined time.
The seeding meeting is Sunday morning, where the four state teams – Appleton East, Brookfield East, De Pere and Kettle Moraine – will learn their opponents.
Notre Dame also heading to state
The Tritons (27-1) beat Beaver Dam, 53-44, in a WIAA Division 2 sectional final game at West Bend West High School.
Notre Dame joins Menomonie, Pewaukee and Reedsburg at state.
After learning their seed Sunday morning, the Tritons will play in the afternoon session March 11 at the Resch Center.