By Paul Lecker
NEILLSVILLE – The Neillsville girls basketball team lost in the sectional semifinals each of the past three years, and when the Warriors were down 13 points at halftime of its WIAA Division 4 sectional final against Phillips on Saturday, they were not about to go down again without a fight.
Senior Emma Moseley battled foul trouble to score 10 of her 14 points in the second half as the Warriors mounted a comeback and pulled out a 48-42 win to earn a spot at the state tournament.
Neillsville (25-2) will take on Laconia (24-4) in a Division 4 semifinal at the 2022 WIAA State Girls Basketball Tournament at 8:15 p.m. Thursday at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
The Warriors will be making their sixth appearance at the girls state tournament, the last coming after three-straight trips from 2012-14. Neillsville’s other two appearances came in 2006 and 2007, with its only championship in 2012.
Mineral Point (28-0) takes on Westfield (27-1) in the other D-4 semifinal at 6:30 p.m. The championship will be at 12:45 p.m. Saturday. All state tournament games will be televised live on WAOW-TV 9 of Wausau.
“We tend to do that a lot,” Moseley said of the Warriors falling behind in the sectional championship game. “We get ourselves down and don’t come out right away. In the second half, (Coach) Mr. Gaier always gives us a nice pep talk in the locker room, a lot of yelling, but we get back out there. We showed a lot of heart, did what we had to do, followed our rules, and we got it down.”
John Gaier concurred, saying it was all about the team’s fight as the Warriors limited Phillips to just 11 points in the second half.
“It was really about the kids’ hearts,” Gaier said. “They came out and they were down, started to get some momentum back and believed they could do it.”
Neillsville uses a balanced scoring attack with its five starters averaging between 5.7 and 10.8 points per game. Each game it seems like someone different has to step up offensively, but team defense has been a consistent.
The Warriors, who have won 14 games in a row, allow just 25.5 points per game and have given up 40 or more only five times.
“They are unique,” Gaier said. “It seems like we have to find somebody different every time to lead us in scoring. (We) don’t have that player that we’ve had in the past that will go out and give us points all the time, but defensively this team is as quick and as long in the back line that we have had in a while.”
Sophomore Paris Opelt averages 10.8 points per game with 34 made 3-pointers, and junior Amelia Trunkel chips in 10 points a game while nailing 48 3-pointers.
Moseley averages 9.5 points per game and leads the team in rebounding at 5.2 per contest.
Junior point guard Delaney Rochester (7.3 ppg) and sophomore Paige Voight (5.7 ppg) round out the Warriors’ starting lineup.
Laconia comes into Thursday’s matchup on a 12-game winning streak, which included a two-point win over Racine Lutheran in the sectional final last Saturday.
Laconia, which is located in Rosendale, a town just west of Fond du Lac, also uses a balanced scoring offense as Molly Johannes (5-foot-8 senior) averages 12.1 points and Tierney Madigan (5-foot-10 freshman) chips in 11.1 points per game.
Eight different Spartans have made at least 15 3-pointers, with freshman Payton Morgan leading the way with 31.
Tickets for the tournament are $11 per session online at www.ticketstaronline.com/events/detail/wiaa-girls-state-basketball, or at the Resch box office.
2022 WIAA State Girls Basketball Tournament
March 10-12, at Resch Center, Green Bay
Thursday, March 10
Division 3 Semifinals
No. 1 Waupun (25-3) vs. No. 4 Whitefish Bay Dominican (18-9), 1:30 p.m.
No. 2 Freedom (27-1) vs. No. 3 St. Croix Falls (24-4), approximately 3:15 p.m.
Division 4 Semifinals
No. 1 Mineral Point (28-0) vs. No. 4 Westfield (27-1), 6:30 p.m.
No. 2 Laconia (24-4) vs. No. 3 Neillsville (25-2), approximately 8:15 p.m.
Friday, March 11
Division 5 Semifinals
No. 1 Randolph (29-0) vs. No. 4 Highland (26-3), 9 a.m.
No. 2 Wisconsin Rapids Assumption (26-3) vs. No. 3 Chippewa Falls McDonell (25-3), approximately 10:45 a.m.
Division 2 Semifinals
No. 1 Green Bay Notre Dame (27-1) vs. No. 4 Menomonie (25-3), 1:30 p.m.
No. 2 Reedsburg (28-0) vs. No. 3 Pewaukee (25-3), approximately 3:15 p.m.
Division 1 Semifinals
No. 1 Kettle Moraine (25-3) vs. No. 4 De Pere (24-4), 6:30 p.m.
No. 2 Brookfield East (25-3) vs. No. 3 Appleton East (24-4), approximately 8:15 p.m.
Saturday, March 12
Division 5, 11 a.m.
Division 4, approximately 12:45 p.m.
Division 3, approximately 2:30 p.m.
Division 2, 6:30 p.m.
Division 1, approximately 8:15 p.m.