Kewaunee players celebrate after scoring in the last seconds Saturday against East Troy during the WIAA Division 3 state girls basketball final at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon. / Lukas Keapproth/Press-Gazette Media
ASHWAUBENON — Find a way to finish.
It’s been the goal all season for the Kewaunee girls basketball team, and it certainly accomplished that on Saturday at the Resch Center.
Jill Kleiman cut to the hoop and fired a pass across the lane to fellow senior Alex Richard, who finished under the basket with the game-winning layup as time expired to give the Storm its second straight WIAA Division 3 state championship with a 60-58 victory over East Troy.
“We were all just looking and waiting for it to go in,” said Kleiman, who had 11 points and three assists. “Once it went in I just jumped so high. I was congratulating (Richard) and saying thank you for finishing my assist.”
It was a connection that didn’t go as planned.
“It was a busted play,” said Kewaunee coach Lynn Geier, who took a timeout with 16 seconds remaining.
“We told the team if it does break up you just get yourselves together, get yourselves composed and just look for the last shot.”
After rallying from a 13-point first-half deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the Storm (27-1) got the final possession after East Troy senior Breanna Gaspervich tied the contest with her first 3-pointer of the game with 39 seconds remaining.
“Besides Jill passing me the ball, I think that cleared my memory about the rest of the game,” said Richard, who had 16 points.
East Troy (26-2) became the first team to score 50 points this season against Kewaunee. The Trojans built a 17-4 lead to start the game with Kleiman drawing two fouls in a 19-second span in the first quarter, which forced the Storm point guard to sit for the most of the frame.
Leading 32-23 at the half, East Troy would see Gaspervich — its top scorer and a Northern Michigan University recruit — pick up her third foul and have to sit midway through the third quarter.
That’s when the Storm came roaring back on a 10-0 run to close the gap to 38-37 with 1:57 left in the third.
The run began with senior Kelsey Stangel hitting a 3-pointer, and she would later hit another to tie the game for the first time before giving Kewaunee a 48-46 lead with 5:27 left to play with a layup on the next possession.
Stangel tied a career high with 27 points and made 10 rebounds. She went 9-for-18 from the field, including 3-for-5 from the 3-point range.
Kewaunee’s five made 3s was more than that of East Troy, which made 11 in its semifinal win against Neillsville on Thursday.
“For the most part, the hot-shooting team that they are, I thought that we kind of controlled them because they can be a lot hotter than that,” said Geier about the Trojans going 4-for-10 on 3s.
In addition to limiting the Trojans on the perimeter, another key to Kewaunee’s comeback was locking down inside to stop East Troy’s guard-oriented lineup from driving through the lane at will like it did in the first half.
The Trojans had eight points off fastbreaks in the first half and just two for the remainder of the game.
“They beat us off the dribble in the beginning but that’s what we talked about,” Stangel said. “We needed to move our feet quicker and to be able to control them and keep them in front of us because that’s what your job is when your guarding the ball. Then let your help-side defense do their jobs.”
Kewaunee certainly finished the job they set out at the beginning of the season to do.
“The emotions are just flowing, it’s unreal,” said Stangel, one of six seniors. “It’s so amazing to end your senior year this way.”
Kewaunee 6 17 17 20 — 60
East Troy 17 15 12 14 — 58
Kewaunee: Stangel 27, Richard 16, Heim 3, Kudick 3, Bultman 11. 3-pt: Stangel 3, Heim 1, Kleiman 1. FT: 11-14. F:15.
East Troy: Olsen 10, Oleson 10, Gaspervich 13, Atchison 21, Riemer 4. 3-ppt: Gaspervich 1, Atchison 3. FT: 10-14. F: 17.