Green Bay Notre Dame's Allison LeClaire lays up a shot against Milton Friday during a Division 2 semifinal of the WIAA girls state basketball tournament at the Resch Center. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
ASHWAUBENON — The Green Bay Notre Dame girls basketball team can breathe easy.
No, not because of their decisive 61-35 victory over Milton in Friday's WIAA Division 2 state semifinals at the Resch Center but because of the health of leading scorer Allie LeClaire.
With 1.8 seconds left in the first half and Notre Dame leading 36-9, the junior point guard came down hard on her right ankle while being fouled. She tried to stand, but quickly crumbled back to the floor.
LeClaire walked gingerly off the court at halftime and Notre Dame coach Sara Rohde was prepared to go the rest of the way without her igniter.
However, LeClaire and the Tritons averted disaster. The nasty looking incident was anything but.
The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay recruit came back with her right ankle tightly wrapped, but was able to play the entire third quarter to lead four Tritons scorers in double-digits with a team-high 14 points.
In the process, it guaranteed the Tritons their quintessential guard for Saturday’s D2 state championship game against New Berlin Eisenhower.
“It does skip a beat a little bit because you’re like, ‘Oh gosh, is that a knee?’” Rohde said. “You never want anybody to have a knee injury, so that’s the first thing I think. Ankles are playable. Knees are a different story.”
As for the game, the outcome didn’t take long to decide.
Coming off a 21-point victory over Beaver Dam in Saturday’s sectional finals, Rohde could tell her players were a bit nervous early, but it wasn’t visible to the untrained eye.
Notre Dame never trailed and held Milton without a field goal for nearly 13 minutes from the middle of the first quarter to the start of the third. The Red Hawks shot only 2-of-21 from the field in the first half (9.5 percent) and finished 12-of-47 (25.5 percent).
Meanwhile, the Tritons went 12-of-19 from the field in the first half and finished the game shooting at a 60-percent clip.
“When I watched Milton, I guess I didn’t think they were — I don’t want to say horrible on defense, but I didn’t think they were the best defensive team,” Rohde said. “I thought we could really take advantage of their defense. Once our girls recognized that, I thought we kind of took control of the game and ran the floor on them.”
Staying true to the pressure defense the team emphasized midway through this season, Notre Dame ended the second quarter on a 19-0 run with junior Eliza Campbell scoring 10 of her 13 in the first half. She also drew the assignment to shut down Red Hawks leading scorer Morgan Blumer, who finished with 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
Looking for the program's first state title since 2001, Rohde began resting her starters with the Tritons leading by 33 at the end of the third quarter.
When it was over, this year’s state semifinal experience was the polar opposite of the Tritons’ first state appearance under Rohde last season, when they lost 52-34 to eventual champion New London in the D2 semifinals.
“Going to state last year and losing really motivated us,” said LeClaire, who committed only one turnover with five assists. “We knew that we had to step up our game. In the beginning (of the season) we lost some of the games we should’ve won, but we just kept our heads up and knew that we wanted to get back to the state championship.”
The Tritons (21-6) had hoped for a rematch with two-time defending champion Bulldogs, but that didn't happen as New London's 68-game winning streak ended in the other semifinal, 48-47 loss to Eisenhower (25-2).
Still, the opponent isn’t nearly as important as the goal for the Tritons, whose four seniors will be satisifed only with a state title.
“I think we’re a totally different team this tournament run than we were last tournament run,” said senior Brianna Byrne, who scored 12 points. “I think we have a lot more confidence and playing together as a team. I don’t think we were as nervous this game as we were last year. I feel like if we play our game, it could go either way.”
— whodkiew@pressgazette media.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.
Milton… 7 2 9 17 — 35
G.B. Notre Dame…17 19 15 10 — 61
M: Westrick 16, Harms 4, Blumer 13, Stair 2. 3pt: Westrick 1, Blumer 2. FT: 8-14. F: 17.
GBND: Johnson 7, Byrne 12, Rapisarda 10, Campbell 13, LeClaire 14, Nixon 1, Everson 4. 3pt: Rapisarda 2, LeClaire 2, Campbell 1, Everson 1. FT: 13-20. F: 14.