By PAUL WHITT
Special to The Daily News
OCONTO FALLS - The old saying goes that it's not how you start, it's how you finish. In the case of the Goodman-Pembine Patriots' girls' basketball team, it took a great start and a strong finish to overcome a pesky Green Bay N.E.W. Lutheran team 41-29 in the WIAA?Division 5 sectional semifinal in Oconto Falls Thursday night.
Christie Whitt Photos
Patriots Courtney Goyak (left) and Kayleigh Betka (right) try to force a jump ball with GB NEW Lutheran’s Sadie Nier (10) during Thursday’s sectional semifinal.
GP (19-4), led by senior Courtney Goyak's 23 points and 20 rebounds, watched a large first half lead disappear during a nearly 11-minute field goal drought, but answered N.E.W. Lutheran's only lead of the game with a decisive 14-3 run down the stretch to advance to the sectional final against Assumption at D.C. Everest on Saturday at 2 p.m.
"It looked like it was going to be so easy at the beginning," said Patriot coach Dennis Bilski. "But you have to give Lutheran a lot of credit. They made some adjustments on defense, and we didn't handle the change very well."
The Patriots started the game fast and furious, blitzing the Blazers with an early 9-0 lead, and extended it to 15-3 on a layup by Goyak on a great feed from Rachel Stankevich with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter. However after a N.E.W. Lutheran timeout, Keifer Zimmerman jumpstarted the Blazers with consecutive steals and lay-ups, eventually closing the gap to 17-9 at the end of the first quarter.
After a Stankevich steal and layup gave the Patriots a 19-11 cushion with 6:05 remaining in the second, the Blazers' defense took over, forcing seven GP turnovers while Zimmerman continued to chip away at the Patriot lead. When GP point guard Marissa Moloney went to the bench for the final six minutes of the half with three fouls, the team finished the half without another field goal.
"We started panicking a little bit, and they got the momentum all on their side for quite a while," Bilski said. "But they're a good team. People look at their record (8-17) and think they don't belong, but you look at who they play and the conference they play in (Packerland), they play great competition night in and night out. That's a very good ball club and they had us reeling."
The Blazers were gaining more and more confidence behind Zimmerman as she scored 16 of N.E.W. Lutheran's 17 first half points, but GP found a way to take a 20-17 lead to the locker room. Despite her first half dominance, the Patriot coach said no special defensive adjustments were made.
"We were really keying on number ten (Sadie Nier)" he said. "She's their leading scorer, and from what I saw on tape and read about her, she's the leader while Zimmerman plays a supporting role. So we didn't want to change anything and give her (Nier) a chance to get going."
The second half started the same way the first ended, with the Patriots unable to solve the Blazers' high trapping defense, and getting baskets in transition. N.E.W. Lutheran tied the game at 21-21 on a layup by Sadie Neir with 5:20 left in the third quarter, and then took their only lead of the game at 22-21 on a free throw by Zimmerman with 3:38 left.
But according to Bilski, that's when it clicked offensively for the Patriots, who saw a nearly eleven minute field goal drought end and regained the lead on a Stankevich drive and finish with 3:15 remaining.
"We finally got it to Rachel where she could get to the basket, and that got us going," Bilski said. "She's so good in space, that once she got that basket it started some positive momentum for our whole team. We got another, then another, and all of a sudden we have a nice run going. Our confidence was back, and we remembered we're in it to win it!"
From there, Stankevich (12 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) and Goyak owned the paint on a variety and screen and rolls and hard drives and finishes in the paint. The Patriots finished the third with a 27-24 advantage.
"Courtney played really well for us inside and that was our advantage," he said. "I also thought a big key was the defensive effort by Claire (Goyak) and Kayleigh (Betka). Kayleigh especially was outstanding, pressuring the ball and got some key steals."
A baseline jumper by Zimmerman with 6:10 left cut the Patriot lead to 27-26, but the senior dominated GP team would finish the game much like they started, holding a 14-3 advantage over the game's final six minutes.
"This was a gritty win for our team, and we're glad to move on," Bilski said. "I thought our fan support was unbelievable tonight. They were loud and rowdy, and we had the band playing. It felt like a home game for us."
GP moves on to the sectional final where they will play defending state champion Assumption (24-2). This looks like a tall order for the Patriots, but Bilski promises his team will show up and play hard.
"We're going to have fun," he said. "We're going to go there and not back down. We haven't backed down all year. We're going to tie up our tennis shoes and go head to head with them."
GB N.E.W. Lutheran 9 8 7 5 - 29
Good.-Pembine 17 3 7 14 -41
GB N.E.W. Lutheran: Nier 6, Zimmerman 19, Sabel 2, Meerstein 2. FT: 5-15. F: 15.
Goodman-Pembine: Cl. Goyak 1, Stepien 2, Stankevich 12, Betka 3, Co. Goyak 23. FT: 9-19. F: 15.