KIMBERLY — The Kimberly girls basketball team enters the state tournament at the Resch Center as the only team in the Division 1 field without a loss but the Papermakers have been living on the edge since their regional final.
Kimberly (26-0) has won its last three games by a total of four points, beating De Pere (36-35), previously undefeated Sheboygan North (37-36, overtime) and Arrowhead (42-40).
Here’s how Kimberly has survived:
- Against De Pere, the Redbirds missed a 3-point shot at the buzzer.
- Against Sheboygan North, Jenna Smarzinski hit two free throws with 3.6 seconds left to win the game.
- Against Arrowhead, Frankie Wurtz hit a baseline shot with 10 seconds left and then the Papermakers watched Arrowhead miss a layup just before the buzzer.
As the saying goes, it’s all about “survive and advance” in the postseason and that’s exactly what Kimberly has done.
“They’re definitely teams wins,” Smarzinski said. “All girls stepped up and when we needed the points someone stepped up and got those points.”
Against North, Smarzinski lived out a childhood dream. Just like when you’re young, playing in your driveway and you imagine making two free throws to win a big game or championship, Smarzinski was faced with that against North.
Down one point, she made both free throws. She talked about that moment.
“The gym was very loud, I can tell you that” Smarzinski said with a smile. “I just stayed calm and blocked out the noise and knew I could get it done.
“When you’re sitting there in the driveway you don’t have the pressure of if you miss it the season’s over. You don’t have all those fans screaming at you from all different angles.”
Wurtz made a contested 8-footer and joked it was a good thing she made it since there was time left on the clock.
“They’ve been difficult (games), but they’ve been really good teams,” Wurtz said. “Sheboygan North, they’re such a good team, ranked No. 1 in our sectional. Arrowhead is such a good team. They’ve been close, but it’s been good we could pull them out.”
Some will say Kimberly has been lucky, while some will say these wins show a team that is able to beat good teams in the final seconds; championship heart, if you will.
Coach Troy Cullen would like to have an easier time at the state tournament but he knows that isn’t likely. The state semifinal game Friday is against Oak Creek, a team Kimberly beat earlier this season in double overtime, by, you guessed it, one point.
Kimberly, the Fox Valley Association champion, isn’t afraid of being pushed and as the season has played out it makes plays when needed. Cullen knows his team has earned its first state trip since 1998 the hard way.
“Look at the teams we’ve been playing against,” Cullen said. “You start with De Pere, a program that’s been amazing and then Sheboygan North and Arrowhead, a team that was there last year and a team we lost to last year (in a sectional final). It was very difficult.”
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay