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Senior girls come through for West De Pere

By Greg Bates
DE PERE – It was apt that on senior night the two lone seniors in the West De Pere girls’ basketball team’s starting lineup made two game-changing plays.
Katie Waukau picked up a steal and assist on a critical basket and Tori Karchinski knocked down a go-ahead 3-pointer to give the Phantoms the lead for good on Friday night.
Those two important plays helped West De Pere come back against visiting Menasha for a 52-45 victory in a key late-season Bay Conference matchup.
West De Pere coach Chris Abaray loved to see his two seniors come up clutch.
“I think it’s a good moment for them,” Abaray said. “That’s what you want from your seniors in big games is they’ve been in the program for four years and they’ve got to make shots and they’ve got to make plays. Katie got a big steal down the stretch on a sidelines out of bounds play. That was kind of the clincher right there, that kind of put us ahead for good. It’s just being in those situations, that’s where that experience comes in and they just refuse to lose.”
The win keeps West De Pere in the driver’s seat to win the Bay Conference title. The Phantoms are 10-1 with New London in second at 8-1. If New London can win its next two conference games, it will set up a showdown for the conference crown. New London will travel to West De Pere on Jan. 16 in the regular-season finale.
“We knew coming into tonight with two conference games left we needed to get this one to have kind of a final showdown against New London to win the conference,” Abaray said. “We feel like when we get to that game, it’s going to be neck and neck for conference, so that’s a must win. But tonight was a must win. We had to get through this first and we couldn’t look ahead.”
West De Pere — which has won seven of its last eight games — was dealt its lone conference loss by Shawano on Jan. 20.
“After the Shawano game, we were kind of down like, oh, conference is kind of on the line, but now we have our heads really high and we’re really excited to go forward and play New London coming up,” Karchinski said.
West De Pere (17-4, 10-1 Bay) led by as many as seven points in the opening half against Menasha and was up 28-25 at the break.
But a scrappy Bluejays squad went on an 8-0 run midway through the second half to take a 42-36 lead with five minutes remaining.
Karchinski knocked down a 3-pointer to pull within one and just a couple minutes later, Waukau got a steal. She pushed the ball up the court and connected with Faith Walder for a layup to give the Phantoms the lead 45-43 with 2:16 on the clock.
Menasha (12-7, 6-4 Bay) tied the game, but Karchinski again hit a big basket. She was open at the 3-point arc and drained the shot with 1:35 left to put her team up 48-45.
“Number 22 was just kind of sitting in the lane, so I just kind of took the shot and went with my gut,” Karchinski said. “It was exciting in the end.”
West De Pere’s defense forced a missed shot by Menasha and the Phantoms pulled down the rebound.
With Menasha having three fouls to give until West De Pere would go to the free throw line, the Bluejays tried to force a turnover. However, the Phantoms kept control of the ball.
Ella Francois knocked down a pair of free throws with 15.9 seconds remaining to make it 50-45.
Menasha again had an empty offensive possession. Francois was fouled and converted two more free throws to ice the victory.
West De Pere ended the game on a 16-3 run. Abaray saw a calm group of players on his team in the final five minutes.
“They were calmer than I was, which is a credit to them,” Abaray said. “They kept composed down the stretch, which is really important and they did a nice job. They did what was asked of them, plus some.”
Waukau scored a team-high 13 points — hitting three first-half 3-pointers. Francois added 12 points and Karchinski 11 points with three big 3-pointers.
Menasha big Mara Rieder led all scorers with 19 points.
West De Pere has just two nonconference games before its showdown with New London (16-2). The Phantoms last won the conference title in 2020-21.
“We want the outright title,” Abaray said. “Obviously, we want to go into that game with our minds on the playoffs, because seeding is the weekend before. But bringing a conference title back here, we didn’t get it last year and we want these girls to feel that.”

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