Appleton North pulls away from De Pere to win first state title
GREEN BAY (WLUK) --Midway through the second half of Saturday's Division 1 girls basketball state championship game Appleton North's perfect season was in jeopardy as short-handed De Pere rallied to tie the score at 27-27.
But then like the Lightning has done all season, when it has been pushed it pushes back and runs away and that's just what happened.
North outscored De Pere, 22-7, the rest of the way and captured its first state title, beating the Redbirds, 49-34, at the Resch Center.
Appleton North completed a 28-0 season as it was not going to be denied after losing in the state semifinals last season.
"Losing last year the way we did set the tone for how the preseason was going to be and how we worked in the offseason," junior guard Kari Brekke said. "Every one of the girls on our team put in work. I mean, they don't see us up at the five in the morning in the summer working on our handling or our shooting, so I think it it shows the bright lights shows your work in the dark."
De Pere (25-3) had ideas of winning its fourth state title and third since 2005, but the Redbirds suffered a big blow in the first half when senior guard and the Fox River Classic Conference defensive player of the year Olivia DeCleene left the game with a knee injury after crashing into press row.
To De Pere's credit it competed with North, but the Redbirds missed their leader.
"She's the heart and soul of our team," De Pere coach Jeremy Boileau said. "All season long we fought through adversity. Keep believing what we're doing and remain positive and good things will happen. I was proud of the girls the way we fought."
North just had too much. While leading scorer Sydney Levy (19 points per game) was limited to six points, the Lightning's depth showed as Paige Schabo scored a game-high 16 points, while Brekke added 13 and Callie Pohlman nine.
North's depth is one reason why it never lost this season, but even so the Lightning wasn't sure it expected to go perfect this season.
"Coming into this season we knew we were going to be a good team, but I don't really think any of us thought we were going to be undefeated," Pohlman said. "We just really focused on getting better in the offseason and then that 1-0 (mentality) just really helps us on focusing on one game at a time and that's how the chips fell.
"We just kept it rolling and I'm just so proud of everyone because everyone bought into that mentality."
North blitzed undefeated Milwaukee King, 75-52, in Friday's semifinal, but it was tougher Saturday. It took a while for North to pull away.
"For us it was it wasn't our best game," North coach Joe Russom said. "I think we were a little tight. Maybe we danced in the locker room too long before we went out there.
"The kids found a way, they managed the game, they found their shots and they closed it out."
Like every team that won a state title Saturday, the players realized a dream. Brekke remembers being a kid and dreaming of winning a gold ball.
"It's pretty amazing," she said. "Growing up you play for the program starting in fifth grade or whatever, you look up to the high schoolers; they seem very big when you're small.
"It's pretty incredible. I'm honestly speechless right now."
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay