Kewaunee players Kiley Heim (10) and Amanda Kudick (14) play defense against Xavier senior Ashley Bovee (12) during Saturday's WIAA Division 3 sectional championship game at Ashwaubenon High School. / Lukas Keapproth/Press Gazette Media
ASHWAUBENON — The Kewaunee girls basketball team found something extra after halftime on Saturday.
Playing with only a six-player rotation, the Storm not only battled back from a halftime deficit but finished off Appleton Xavier in convincing fashion with a 54-40 victory in a WIAA Division 3 sectional final to advance to state for a third straight season.
The defending D3 champion will play Lodi in a state semifinal game on Friday at the Resch Center.
All of Kewaunee’s sectional final victories have come at Ashwaubenon High School.
But this was one was by far the most tiring for a squad which features five seniors starters that all have at least three years of varsity experience.
“The last couple of games I went with only a six-player rotation and these kids had to tough it out,” Kewaunee coach Lynn Geier said. “I ask them if they’re tired and need to come out, and they always say no. I think they wanted to finish this game and finish this season like they did last year.”
Alex Richard and Kelsey Stangel both posted 16 points, while Kiley Heim knocked down four 3-pointers to lead the Storm, who put up a season-high point total on an Xavier team that hadn’t allowed 40 points in a game all season.
Kewaunee (25-1) found out why in the second quarter, where point guard Jill Kleiman was forced to sit for most of it with two fouls.
The Hawks’ full-court press took over from there and quickly erased a 14-2 Storm lead, as Xavier (24-2) forced 10 turnovers and ended the half on a 10-0 run to take a 22-19 lead.
“In the second quarter with Kleiman out with foul trouble and us making our run, it looked like they were a little tired,” Xavier coach Brian Garvey said. “But whatever they did at halftime, it got them recharged and they made it through playing six kids.”
Kleiman would hit a 3-pointer midway through the third quarter for her only points of the game as Kewaunee retook the lead.
But the Storm’s closing strike didn’t come until midway through the fourth quarter when Amanda Kudick took a turnover and drove in for a layup to extend the advantage to 43-36, which was as close as the Hawks would get.
Averaging 3.4 points per game, Kudick’s contributions during her career are usually best seen by her willingness to dive after loose balls and making the extra pass.
But the seven points she posted on Saturday while playing with a subluxated knee in the second half were crucial in addition to her four rebounds, three steals, and three assists.
“We kept teasing Amanda Kudick that teams are going to try and play off of you because they don’t think you’re an offensive threat,” Geier said. “She knows when to punch it, though, and that’s what she did tonight. She’s just tough.”
Riding a 21-game winning streak into the Resch Center, the Storm knows repeating won’t be easy.
However, the squad is looking forward to the shorter trip and the atmosphere that will come with sharing the experience with Packerland Conference co-champion Algoma for the second time in three years after the Wolves advanced in D4.
“It’s going to be totally awesome,” Stangel said.
Kewaunee…14 5 14 21 — 54
Appleton Xavier …5 17 7 11 — 40
K: Heim 12, Kudick 7, Kleiman 3, Stangel 16, Richard 16. 3-pt: Heim 4, Kleiman, Stangel. FT: 10-21. F: 14.
AX: Bovee 5, Powers 5, Kersten 4, Machurick 11, Ufi 13, Loken 2. 3-pt: Powers, Kersten, Machurick 3. FT: 7-9. F: 24. Fouled out: Powers.