Ashwaubenon ends Pulaski’s season
By Janelle Fisher
ASHWAUBENON – The Ashwaubenon girls’ basketball team pulled together a strong second half resulting in a 53-43 win over Pulaski in a first round WIAA regional playoff game on Tuesday.
The game marked the third played between the two teams this season, with Ashwaubenon narrowly defeating Pulaski 48-45 on Jan. 13 and Pulaski taking the victory 35-27 just last week, Feb. 16.
“You hate to play a conference rival in a tournament,” Ashwaubenon coach Nicky VanLaanen said. “But we’re just really, really pleased to be moving on.”
Pulaski sophomore Ashley Servais scored the first points of the game with a 3-point basket — her first of four throughout the game and the team’s first of seven in the first half.
Pulaski coach Doug McElrone was impressed with how Servais, who averages 2.9 points per game, played in the game.
“I’ve been on her to be an offensive threat for us because she can shoot the basketball really well,” he said. “And, you know, she did that today, which opens things up for us.”
Ashwaubenon, the No. 7 seed, made it onto the scoreboard shortly after Pulaski with a basket made by senior Hannah Hutto.
Ashwaubenon’s top scorer Gianna Guarascio made two 3-point shots early on in the first half, with a field goal from Hutto, the team’s second top-scoring player, in between.
Servais followed up with her second 3-pointer for Pulaski to pull within 10-8 of Ashwaubenon.
No. 10-seeded Pulaski pulled ahead with two successful 3-point shots — one each from seniors Madeline Christenson and Taylor Olson.
For the next three minutes, neither team scored except for by free throws until Ashwaubenon senior Avery Amenson made her first basket of the game.
Van Laanen was proud of the way the seniors on the team played in what had the potential to be their final high school game.
“Avery Amenson kept us in the basketball game when we had a few-minute stretch where we weren’t scoring and she got to the rim,” VanLaanen said. “And Hannah [Hutto] got some loose balls. They refused to have their season and their careers over. So my seniors played like seniors, and I’m really proud of them.”
Pulaski was quick to follow with a 3-pointer made by junior Maggie Lardinois and, after a timeout called by Ashwaubenon, a 2-point shot from Olson.
Ashwaubenon’s Amenson and Guarascio snuck in two points each before Pulaski called its first timeout of the game with the score at 21-19 in the Red Raiders’ favor.
A field goal for Pulaski and a three-point play for Ashwaubenon brought Ashwaubenon into the lead at 24-23 with a minute and a half to go in the first half. But Pulaski’s Christensen and Servais each made a 3-point shot leaving Pulaski ahead 29-24 at halftime.
In the second half, things changed for both teams.
McElrone said that although the first half of the game went well for Pulaski, his team struggled defensively in the second half.
“We played really, really well in the first half defensively,” McElrone said. “We only on average give up 50 points per game, and defensively we just weren’t on the mark tonight which hurt us. In the first half, I thought we played really, really well, but the pressure got to us in the second half. In the first half, I thought they did a nice job kind of weathering the pressure and taking care of it and the second half, it got to us.”
Meanwhile, VanLaanen said Ashwaubenon stepped up its defense for the second half after the high volume of made 3-pointers by Pulaski.
“We had to make sure we got to some of their shooters who were shooting extremely well,” she said. “When a team makes 7 of 11 in the first half from 3, sometimes you think it’s not your night. But I told the kids, we just have to weather the storm and keep executing on offense and try to get some stops on defense.”
Pulaski junior Ella Hasser scored two points to kick off the second half and, after a timeout, Amenson scored three points for Ashwaubenon.
Another field goal each by Amenson for Ashwaubenon, Olson for Pulaski and Addy Phipps for Ashwaubenon — and a total of six more free throws between the two teams — still had Pulaski up, 38-32.
After Pulaski increased its lead with a 3-pointer from Servais, Ashwaubenon called another timeout with just over 10 minutes left in the game.
The Jaguars came back from their timeout strong and a free throw by Amenson plus a basket each by Guarascio, Hutto and Phipps meant Ashwaubenon was only down two points with just over five minutes to go.
After returning from a timeout called by Pulaski, Ashwaubenon scored four more points — pulling the Jaguars into the lead, 43-41, and prompting the Red Raiders to call another timeout with 2 1/2 minutes left before one team’s season would end.
Ashwaubenon sophomore Olivia Raye increased Ashwaubenon’s lead with two field goals.
Ashwaubenon scored six more points via free throws to clinch the victory.
VanLaanen said that after some rocky games, this second half was probably the best Ashwaubenon has played all season.
“We’ve had a really inconsistent season,” she said. “We’ve played really amazing stretches against some awesome basketball teams, and tonight we actually put together a complete basketball game. We were very consistent and the second half was probably the best half of basketball we played all year. I’m really proud of our kids because it was all about effort and it was about attitude. I’m really proud of my kids for not hanging their heads and for playing hard and putting us in a position to pull the game off.”
Ashwaubenon will now travel to No. 2-seeded Fox Valley Lutheran on Friday, Feb. 24.