NEENAH — There’s not much that surprises the Beaver Dam prep girls basketball team.
In fact, most of the time head coach Tim Chase and his top-ranked Golden Beavers know what to expect from an opponent. But West De Pere made Beaver Dam do a double take in Saturday’s WIAA Division 2 sectional final at Neenah High School.
The defending state champion Golden Beavers had only a three-point lead at the break, but regrouped to run away in the second half of for a 70-49 victory that clinched a second straight trip the the state tournament.
“I think they made a lot of 3s that we weren’t really expecting from some of their kids,” Chase said. “The pace was good; we scored 32. It was just the fact that they made some 3s surprised us. The pace worked out well for us. We got the tempo we wanted. I think that just made things difficult for them.”
The No. 1 seed Golden Beavers started the second half on a 12-4 run push their lead into double digits against the second-seeded Phantoms.
“You got to go through (the game) and let the game play out a little bit,” Chase said. “I just look at it as it’s half the game; 50 percent of the game. There’s a lot more game to be played. A lot of things were going right. We tried to do things just a little bit better. That’s basketball. You just don’t know how it’s going to go.
“I think the problem a lot of time with our team is we have some blowouts where the games are over at halftime. Sometimes people are like, ‘Why don’t you do that all the time?’ It’s not that easy once you get to this level. It’s not that easy. We just can’t have those games where you’re up by 30 or 40. People are spoiled a little bit.”
Jada Donaldson started the second-half run. She finished with only four points, but Chase raved about her work on West De Pere’s Brehna Evans, whom he called “an All-State level player.” Evans finished with 12 points.
Afton Bartol capped the run with a three-point play en route to 13 points, with nine coming in the second half and she and Aly Van Loo gave West De Pere fits in the paint. Van Loo scored 12 of her game-high 17 points in the first half.
“They’re great post players,” Chase said. “Aly shined in the first half and Afton a little more in the second half. They’re effective and they’re a great 1-2 combo to have. We had great matchups with them and we used that.”
Evans ended the run with a layup at 15:04 and Samantha Carriveau drained one to cut the West De Pere deficit to 44-37 with 14:24 left. But Donaldson hit a free throw to start a 19-4 run to go up 63-41 with 7:10 remaining.
The Phantoms didn’t threaten again.
“I think even though we still have those moments where we’re go, go, go all the time and we’re knocking down every shot,” Bartol said. “We still do get a little bit nervous even though we’ve been in this position before. I think that came into play a little bit as well.”
The Golden Beavers started the game down 6-3 before a 3-pointer by Natalie Jens and a Van Loo bucket in the post gave Beaver Dam a lead. The lead changed hands 12 times before Jens drove for a layup with 2:15 left that put the Beavers up 27-26, starting a 7-2 spurt to close out the first half.
“They’re a good team; they made it this far,” said freshman Maty Wilke, who finished with 16 points and three assists. “We knew they have big players that will make big shots. We tried to get back and hit our shots on offense and keep playing good defense.”
Bartol said the Golden Beavers discussed strategy at the half to create some space.
“I think it was our defensive pressure and drawing the big-time fouls on their best players really got us going,” she said. “We really proved to us that we could do it.”
Evans and Alivia McNabb fouled out late in the game for West De Pere, and two more Phantoms finished with four fouls apiece.
In the final few minutes, when Beaver Dam was up by 21, the reality started to set in that the state tournament next week was in hand. The Golden Beavers will play Hortonville in a Division 2 semifinal at 1:35 p.m. Friday at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.
“It’s awesome. This is the dream,” Chase said. “This is probably the hardest week, obviously with our game on Thursday (against Milwaukee Vincent) too being as close and the other team has the ball, and you know that one possession could knock you out. It brings you back to reality a lot.
“I’m excited for our girls for the opportunity we have to get up to Green Bay, but we got a lot of work to do this week to get better.”
BEAVER DAM 70, WEST DE PERE 49
West De Pere 29 20 — 49
Beaver Dam 32 38 — 70
West De Pere (49) — Samantha Carriveau 17, Sydney Appleton 5, Brehna Evans 12, Kasey Dens 2, Alivia McNabb 8, Alexa Thompson 5. TOTALS (FGS FTM-FTA PTs): 16 9-10 49.
Beaver Dam (70) — Natalie Jens 5, Paige Schumann 6, Jada Donaldson 4, Afton Bartol 13, Kirsten Storhoff 1, Maty Wilke 16, Tara Stauffacher 8, Aly Van Loo 17. TOTALS (FGS FTM-FTA PTs): 26 11-23 70.
3-pointers: WDP 8 (Samantha Carriveau 1, Sydney Appleton 1, Brehna Evans 3, Alivia McNabb 2, Alexa Thompson 1), BD 7 (Natalie Jens 1, Afton Bartol 1, Maty Wilke 3, Tara Stauffacher 2). Total fouls: WDP 20, BD 18. Fouled out: Evans, Thompson.