By Paul Lecker
ATHENS – The Athens girls basketball team turned up its defensive pressure from the start and rode it to another playoff win.
The Bluejays held Spencer scoreless for nearly 11 minutes in the first half to build a double-digit lead and held off a spirited rally late to earn a 48-43 victory in a WIAA Division 5 regional semifinal Friday night at Athens High School.
No. 4 seed Athens (22-4) moves on to a D-5 regional final at No. 1 seed and defending state champion Wisconsin Rapids Assumption (23-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast live at zaleskisports.com.
Athens build a 14-4 lead after baskets by Sophia Coker and Elizabeth Van Rixel capped a 12-0 run.
Spencer made a late flurry in the final 3 minutes of the half as Heavy Kind scored five points and Amber Becker scored inside in the final seconds, but Addison Lavicka drilled a 3-pointer just before the buzzer for Athens and gave the Bluejays a 19-13 lead going into the break.
Spencer committed 19 turnovers in the first half and was just 2-for-15 from the field before making four of its last five attempts.
“I think we had 19 turnovers in the first half, and against a good team, you’re not going to win a game like that,” Spencer coach Krystal Weier said. “We had some good looks, but our buckets just weren’t falling. Credit to the Athens’ defense, they were good and scrapy.”
Athens started the second half on a 10-3 run, sparked by two baskets from Lavicka, who had a team-high 23 points, pushing its lead to 29-16.
“In the first half we held them to 13 points and that’s huge,” Athens coach Kyncaide Keefe said. “Our shots weren’t falling, but we preach defense regardless of what happens on the defensive end.”
Spencer finally got its offense going as Kind scored twice, and Rebecca Mlsna and Jorie Meyer added hoops to bring the Rockets back to within 32-24 with 10:20 to go.
Athens responded with a 13-7 run to build a 14-point lead, its largest, and neither team scored for more than 3½ minutes as Spencer turned the ball over on six of seven possessions.
Kind scored nine of her game-high 28 points in the final 2:10 to bring the Rockets to within five by the end, but the long scoreless streaks in each half were just too much to overcome. Kind, who made five 3-pointers, also had a team-high 12 rebounds.
Meyer added eight points for the Rockets, who finish the season 18-8.
“I say this all the time, but this is one special senior group,” Weier said. “This group worked their tails off every single day and were a great example for our program. When I started (as coach) they were sophomores and seeing them grow into seniors, it’s awesome to see them grow and what their potential was, and see them reach it. They left everything on the floor here today.”
Jazelle Hartwig added nine points and seven rebounds, and Sophia Coker had nine points and 15 rebounds for the Bluejays.
Athens will get another crack at Assumption on Saturday, after it lost a Marawood Conference crossover to the Royals 64-38 on Feb. 3.
“Assumption is tough, very pesky with half-court pressure,” Keefe said. “If we can break that pressure and make them play defense against our half-court offense, it’s going to be a battle. As long as we can handle that pressure, screw our heads on, and push I think it will be a good one.”
Bluejays 48, Rockets 43
Spencer 13 30 - 43
Athens 19 29 - 48
SPENCER (43): Madison Knecht 1-5 0-1 3, Jorie Meyer 4-7 0-0 8, Heavyn Kind 10-25 3-5 28, Claudia Krause 0-1 0-3 0, Emily Wehrman 0-0 0-0 0, Rebecca Mlsna 1-4 0-0 2, Amber Becker 1-4 0-0 2. FG: 17-46. FT: 3-9. 3-pointers: 6-21 (Kind 5-13, Knecht 1-5, Mlsna 0-1, Meyer 0-2). Rebounds: 29 (Kind 12). Turnovers: 31. Fouls: 21. Fouled out: Mlsna. Record: 18-8.
ATHENS (48): Addison Lavicka 7-14 8-12 23, Celina Ellenbecker 0-1 0-0 0, Jazelle Hartwig 2-11 3-7 8, Sophia Coker 4-16 1-4 9, Sydney Coker 0-2 0-3 0, Elizabeth Van Rixel 1-5 4-6 6, McKennzie Schug 1-6 0-2 2. FG: 15-55. FT: 16-34. 3-pointers: 2-3 (Lavicka 1-1, Hartwig 1-2). Turnovers: 22. Fouls: 17. Fouled out: Schug. Record: 22-4.