Entering Friday’s Badger North Conference girls basketball tilt between Baraboo and Portage, it was the visiting Thunderbirds who were riding the hot streak.
Baraboo came in having won three of its last four games, including an impressive 55-51 win over Waunakee on Jan. 24. Portage on the other hand, hadn’t won a game in over a month and was riding a 5-game losing streak.
But on Friday night, it was Portage that looked like the hot team. The Warriors used an early 9-0 run to take control early and only added to their lead from there, as they cruised to a 63-41 victory.
Baraboo (5-15, 4-9 Badger North) took its one and only lead of the night when senior Alexis Johnson scored the game’s first bucket on a layup on the opening possession. But Portage (7-11, 4-7) answered, as senior Tess Wilson, who finished with 11 points, and junior McKena Yelk, who had a game-high 19 points, combined to score all of the points in a 9-0 run that put the Warriors in front for good.
Portage was able to use a three-quarters-court press to force the Thunderbirds into making a number of early turnovers.
“Our press was amazing tonight. We really played big,” Portage coach Jessica Howe said. “Girls were all over the place getting deflections and creating that pressure where it was really hard for Baraboo to get any easy looks.”
Baraboo coach Michael Behl said his team just couldn’t figure out how to consistently beat Portage’s pressure, which in turn didn’t allow his team to get into its normal flow on offense.
“When they’re playing the three-quarters-court pressure, certainly you can beat it and get good looks off it if you take care of the basketball and make the right pass,” Behl said. “But it really put us back on our heels, because we made some poor decisions in a number of possessions. It turned us over and now we got to defend a live ball turnover, and they typically convert on that. And then we got to go back and face it again.”
Portage started to stretch out its lead by converting from outside the 3-point line. Portage made seven 3-pointers in the game, including one from senior MacKenzie Roth that gave Portage a double-digit lead at 19-8 with just over 9 minutes left in the first half.
Portage senior Anika Shortreed came off the bench to make two of her three 3-pointers in the first half. The second of those 3-pointers gave Portage at 28-11 lead with 4:55 left in the half.
“We’re lucky that we have five strong starters, but the part where you are really successful is when your bench can score some major points,” Howe said. “Ani has proved she can do that for us, so we look forward to putting her in. She hit her shots fast, so it builds confidence for everyone.”
Baraboo tried to cut into Portage’s lead behind senior Haley Hannagan, who led the T-Birds with 13 points. Her bucket from the left block made it 40-25 with 14:30 to go.
Baraboo senior Grace Stuckey drilled a 3-pointer to make it 43-28 with 13:30 to play, but that would be the last bucket for the T-Birds for a while. Baraboo didn’t score again until junior Carly Moon’s layup with 4:50 left, ending a scoreless stretch that lasted 8:40.
During that Baraboo drought, Portage went on a 15-0 run that included another 3-pointer by Shortreed and six more points from Yelk, giving the Warriors a 58-28 lead.
“I think we executed very patiently on offense. We moved the ball around and made their defense stretch and then we got some really good looks,” Howe said. “We worked hard rebounding, so we got our second chances when we needed to.”
Baraboo did manage to finish the game strong, trimming its 30-point deficit down to 22 points by the final buzzer. Moon made a pair of 3-pointers in the final 1:35 of the game and finished with eight points.
“I thought we battled the whole game and I thought we played hard,” Behl said. “We never quit. We’re not quitters by any means. We certainly got down on ourselves, but we battled to the end. We battled for the whole 36 minutes and I was happy with that.”
Baraboo, which also lost 61-48 to Portage on Dec. 18 in Baraboo, could get another crack at the Warriors. With tournament seeding meetings scheduled to take place this weekend, Behl anticipates his T-Birds will be returning to Portage for a regional quarterfinal game on Feb. 19.
“We’re probably going to end up facing them again a week from Tuesday. Most likely this will be the matchup,” Behl said. “Something different could happen, but I would say it’s a 90 percent chance we’re coming back here a week from Tuesday.”
Baraboo is scheduled to finish the regular season with a non-conference game at defending WIAA Division 3 state champion Marshall on Monday before finishing the Badger North Conference season with a game at DeForest on Thursday.
Portage will finish its regular season with three games next week. The Warriors will host Mount Horeb on Monday, play at Waunakee on Tuesday, before finishing up back at home against Sauk Prairie on Thursday.
Baraboo 21 20 — 41
Portage 37 26 — 63
BARABOO — Kieck 1 2-4 4, A.Moon 1 0-1 2, C.Moon 3 0-0 8, Hannagan 6 1-2 13, Oettinger 0 1-2 1, Horstman 1 0-0 2, Stuckey 2 0-0 6, Johnson 2 0-0 4, Gruner 0 1-2 1. Totals 16 5-11 41.
PORTAGE — Roth 2 2-2 8, Wilson 5 1-1 11, Yelk 8 1-2 19, Belleau 1 0-0 2, Nelson 2 0-0 4, Brandner 3 3-4 9, Shortreed 3 0-0 9, Leeland 0 1-2 1. Totals 24 8-12 63.
3-point goals — BAR 4 (C.Moon 2, Stuckey 2), POR 7 (Roth 2, Yelk 2, Shortreed 3). Total fouls — POR 15, BAR 15.