DEFOREST — When a team is on a run and has a chance to retake the lead, it has to seize the opportunity.
The Portage girls basketball team was unable to do so Friday night, as self-inflicted mistakes and an inability to stop counterattacks sunk the Warriors’ comeback attempt in a 59-53 loss to DeForest in a Badger North Conference game Friday night at DeForest High School.
“We had some opportunities where we were starting a run, made some silly mistakes and we just couldn’t get that back,” first year Portage coach Jessica Howe said.
Portage (1-7, 1-4 Badger North) found itself down 28-21 entering the break after the Norskies closed the final 2 minutes of the opening half on a 7-0 run. The Warriors started the second half strong, as back-to-back putbacks by senior Hanne Anderson and a floater by junior Tessa Wilson cut their deficit to 30-27 with just under 16 minutes left to play.
That was as close as Portage got, however, as the Norskies (1-6, 1-4) countered right back. DeForest rattled off a 10-0 run of its own, capped by back-to-back steals and layups by juniors Bryn Smith and Aleah Grundahl, to push its lead to double digits at 40-27 with 13:15 remaining.
The Norskies’ strong response stemmed from their defensive pressure as they switched into a press and flustered the Warriors.
“We made some changes to our press break, but I’m not sure it’s consistent with the girls yet,” Howe said. “They keep reacting and we just need a bit of a pause and more confidence and poise. I know we have the girls that can be composed. We just need more time with it.”
Trailing by 13, the Warriors battled back, eventually getting the deficit down to four at 42-38 following a 3-pointer and a floater by junior McKena Yelk. The Norskies answered again, getting back-to-back layups by senior Delaney Kramar and freshman Grace Roth to push their lead back to 46-38 with 8:20 left.
Portage continued to fight, trimming the lead down to four three times. Sophomore Briana Brandner’s layup made it 53-49 with 3:10 left, following two DeForest free throws, Yelk made a pair of her own to make it 55-51 with 1:31, but the Warriors were unable to get closer. Looking to preserve their lead, the Norskies bled the clock and worked the ball around before Smith canned a 3-pointer with 35 seconds remaining to put Deforest up 58-51.
“That was OK with us as long as we get the ball,” Howe said of the Norskies’ running down the clock. “But then she made that 3 and we all felt it.”
Portage got off to a strong start, leading for the first 6 minutes of the game. The teams traded punches down the stretch of the first half before the Norskies took control. While DeForest’s runs were big, Howe said that it was more than just that.
“I think it was the entire game where again I feel like we were playing from behind,” she said. “Even when we were ahead, I don’t feel like we’re in control enough and the girls believe it just yet.”
Wilson was huge for the Warriors, scoring a game-high 22 points, including 13 in the first half. Yelk added 11 and Anderson chipped in 10 before fouling out. Smith scored 15 points to lead DeForest.
While the loss is a tough one to swallow given how close the Warriors were on multiple occasions to swing momentum back in their direction, Howe knows it’s a step forward.
“I think what’s happening is we’re growing as a group together and we have to hold onto the fact we want to win,” she said. “We’re not fighting for a record necessarily; we’re working for our future, the program, tournament runs and just looking forward to being competitive in every game.”
DEFOREST 59, PORTAGE 53
Portage 21 32 — 53
DeForest 28 31 — 59
PORTAGE — Anderson 5 0-0 10, Roth 1 1-2 3, Wilson 10 2-4 22, Bisch 1 0-0 2, Yelk 3 4-6 11, Brandner 2 0-0 4, Bretsch 0 1-2 1. Totals 22 8-14 53.
DEFOREST — Wittmann 2 5-6 9, Roth 4 0-0 8, Smith 6 0-0 15, Kramar 5 0-0 10, Grundahl 4 3-7 11, Schaeffer 1 0-0 2, Midthun 1 0-0 2, Tschumter 1 0-0 2. Totals 24 8-13 59.
3-point goals — POR 1 (Yelk 1), DeF 3 (Smith 3). Total fouls — POR 15, DeF 10. Fouled out — Anderson.