ASHWAUBENON — Algoma entered Thursday’s Division 4 state semifinal girls basketball game against St. Mary’s Springs knowing it was just two wins away from repeating as state champs.
However, before the Wolves could even think about Saturday’s state championship they had to deal with the Ledgers, who were making their first WIAA state appearance.
After a quick start by Algoma, Springs rallied and appeared on pace to derail Algoma’s repeat dream, but the Wolves’ defense down the stretch keyed them to a 42-37 overtime win at the Resch Center.
“Obviously one of the toughest games we’ve been in all year,” Algoma coach Mark Zastrow said. “Their size really gave us a challenge; big, strong kids, but still very athletic. They gave us issues on the perimeter and inside.
“I thought our kids battled hard. We didn’t go as deep as we usually do on the bench. These kids gutted it out. I’m really proud of them.”
Algoma (25-2) appeared as if it was going to run away from the Ledgers (24-3) as the Wolves opened with an 11-2 run early in the first quarter. But Springs rallied to close the gap to 11-9 after one quarter and the rest of the way it was tight.
“I knew there was going to be some jitters,” Springs coach Mitch Redig said. “I actually watched the film last year with Algoma against Cuba City and Cuba City fell behind 10-0 early.
“I was just hoping that wouldn’t be us. It did happen, but with the group of girls we have they’re always going to fight to the end.”
Algoma entered the game averaging 58.1 points per game, but Springs’ 1-3-1 zone stymied the Wolves throughout. Algoma had problems getting the ball inside to posts Kennedy Blahnik and Anna Dier and was fortunate Baleigh Delorit hit four 3-pointers.
“We had open looks, we hit some, but not enough,” Zastrow said. “We couldn’t pull them out another step where we could get post entries. Their size is difficult to produce in practice and their size, quite honestly, was bigger than I thought it would be.
“It made it hard for us to reverse the basketball to get a shot from the perimeter. We didn’t get into our press much because we didn’t score. All that kind of affected the total points we scored.”
Algoma relied on its defense and it was at its best late. Springs grabbed a 37-36 lead with 6:03 left in the fourth quarter and failed to score the rest of the game.
“We went to a 1-2-2, which we play never,” Zastrow said. “We’ve worked on it and had it in case we needed it. We’ve done it like once in a game.
“They did it to perfection and slowed down their penetration.”
Algoma managed one point in the final six minutes of the fourth but had a chance to win it in regulation. With 9.7 seconds left in the quarter, Zastrow called timeout and drew up a play for Delorit to shoot a 3-pointer, but it was blocked.
Springs corralled the rebound and called timeout with .8 seconds left. Eleanore Mueller, who was 0 for 3 from 3-point range this season, shook open for about a 27-footer but missed everything, sending the game into overtime where Springs’ offense continued to stall.
Algoma scored all five points in overtime to get the win, with Dier supplying the only field goal of the extra frame off an offensive rebound. It wasn’t an offensive showcase on either side, but Algoma doesn’t care.
It’ll play for its second straight state title Saturday when it plays Cuba City, a team Algoma beat in last year’s state semifinal.
“It’s incredible,” Blahnik said. “For me this is three of the last four year at state and people can’t get here once. It’s just a credit to our hard work.”
Added Dier: “It’s an amazing feeling. It’s what you work for, it’s why you play in the summer. To get the opportunity is an amazing feeling. Hopefully, back to back. That would be pretty awesome.”
Notes: Dier, who missed the sectional final, was diagnosed with pneumonia on Tuesday and is on antibiotics. … Delorit scored 14 points, while Blahnik added 12. … Kelli Schrauth scored 17 points and had 13 rebounds for Springs. … All five starters for Springs played at least 30 minutes. … Each of Algoma’s five starters played at least 27 minutes.
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay