By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
WRIGHTSTOWN – The Wrightstown High School girls may have come into their regional championship battle with Fox Valley Lutheran on Saturday winners of 22 straight, holder of the top spot in the state in Division 3 and owners of an 18-point rout of the Foxes last month.
But the Tigers had also had to scrap for a two-point win over those same Foxes in the regular season finale eight days earlier and found themselves, 10 minutes into the title game, outmuscled and seven points down. No one was penciling them through to the sectionals, in other words.
Then, on two consecutive Wrightstown possessions, the Tigers missed a combined five shots, collected all five of those misses and eventually stuck it in the basket. Seven chances on two possessions resulting in four points. Most of those offensive boards came complements of Taylor Guns, and the sequence launched a remarkable 34-7 run that turned what promised to be another thriller into another rout as Wrightstown went on to a 64-50 victory for its third consecutive regional championship.
“We just had to box out hard,” said Guns, who came into the game with a team best eight boards a game and pulled down 15 on Saturday. “We knew they were going to crash the boards, so we had to box out a little harder. We knew we’d be in a dogfight and we had to stay poised.”
Added head coach Mike Froehlke: “Taylor has been huge for us this last month. She’s relentless. She knows her role and she just doesn’t want to lose. So she’s going to continue to rebound and play defense and do anything to help us win.”
Wrightstown, which lost in the season opener and now sports a 23-1 mark, takes on Amherst (No. 2 in Division 3) in a sectional semifinal on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Menasha High School. The Tigers knocked off Amherst a year ago to win the sectional and reach the state championship. Valders and Southern Door play in the other sectional semifinal.
Guns scored six straight points during that offensive rebounding fest, and though Fox Valley scored the next five points to reclaim a 25-19 margin, Ella Diny scored seven quick points as part of a 12-0 run to close out the half and the Tigers marched into the locker room up 31-25. Leading scorer Kailee Van Zeeland, held in check in the first half, scored twice in the opening minutes to push the lead to 10.
Following a Jenna Bruss bucket that snapped a six-minute Fox Valley scoring drought, Wrightstown put it away with a 12-0 run, aided time and again by the adept passing of sophomore point guard Bridget Froehlke, who assisted on eight of the Tigers’ 13 second-half buckets and finished with 11 assists overall. It was Froehlke’s third consecutive double-digit assist output.
Behind those 15 rebounds from Guns, 12 from Van Zeeland and seven apiece from Diny and Meghan Riha, Wrightstown turned that early rebounding deficit into, unofficially, a 15-board advantage. Guns was a basket away from a third Tiger double-double, along with Froehlke’s 17 points and 11 assists and Van Zeeland’s 15 points and 12 boards. Guns finished with eight points, while Diny added 17 points and seven rebounds.
“That’s the strength of our team is we have different girls who can score from different places on the floor,” said Mike Froehlke. “It’s Bridget from the outside and Ella in the post and Kailee going inside or outside. I think that gives coaches a tough time to plan for.”
Wrightstown grew a bit careless once the lead grew to 55-32, allowing the Foxes to make a small run, including a 13-2 stretch that got them to within 11 with two minutes left.
A three-pointer from Riha and two from Froehlke accounted for Wrightstown’s early points, and a Diny scoop inside had the Tigers up 13-9 six minutes in, but the Foxes scored five buckets over a three-minute span to grab a 20-13 advantage before Wrightstown’s 18-5 run to close the half.
After a cold-shooting first half when the Tigers made less than a third of their shots, they found the range after intermission to knock down 13 of 24. They made 11 of 12 from the line. On the other end, the Foxes simply couldn’t get a ball into the basket after Wrightstown employed a rarely used 2-3 zone. Rather than trying to take it inside, Fox Valley settled for long range attempts, missing their first 14 attempts from beyond the arc and finishing 2 of 20 from range in the second half, 6 of 33 overall. The Foxes made just 19 of 61 from the field, while Wrightstown was 24 of 59.
“We know each other pretty well,” Mike Froehlke said. “We didn’t surprise them and they didn’t surprise us. Bridget hit those threes in the first half, but I think what really made the difference is her passing. She just has a good knack for where her teammates are and how to get them the ball.”
Amherst would appear to be a mirror image of the Tigers, at least if you go by the stats. Like Wrightstown, the Falcons are 23-1 and swept through their conference unbeaten. Amherst averages 65.3 points a game, Wrightstown 66.9. The Falcons have size and deft shooting, making 49 percent of their field goal attempts, including 36 percent from three.
They are led by Heather Pearson’s 16.8 points and nine rebounds per game. Laurent Boelte is averaging 12.5 points and Grace Moe 5.6 assists and three steals.
“They have a couple of post players who are good at finishing at the rim,” Mike Froehlke said. “They like to pass the ball into the post but also have a couple of girls who can shoot from three. They’re very good. They’re No. 2 for a reason.”