By Paul Lecker
SPENCER – The Neillsville girls basketball team uses its signature pressuring defense to wreak havoc on most teams it plays.
That was no different on Thursday night as it took on Spencer, which had to play without the conference’s top scorer and Player of the Year candidate Heavyn Kind, in a battle of Cloverbelt Conference East Division leaders.
The Warriors forced more turnovers (34) than shot attempts allowed (22) and cruised to a dominating 57-14 win at the Spencer High School Dome.
The win is Neillsville’s fifth in a row and all but clinches an outright Cloverbelt East title for the third year in a row. The Warriors improve to 18-2 overall and 13-0 in the conference, while Spencer falls to 14-6 and 11-2 in the Cloverbelt East.
“Defensively we’ve been pretty good all year,” Neillsville coach John Gaier said. “Our energy is very good, we’ve got some quickness up front and some length in the back, and that has created some problems. Our kids have done a pretty good staying connected so that when we get a trap, there’s players behind that can make a play. That’s what we work on and we take pride in that.
“Our problem is getting in an offensively rhythm sometimes, and we were a little slow with that again tonight. When we can combine those two things, getting in an offensive rhythm and defending the way we do, then we are going to be a pretty good team.”
After the two teams exchanged a pair of free throws, Neillsville ran off the next 17 points as it forced eight-straight turnovers.
Amelia Trunkel had nine points in the run and 15 points in the first half as the Warriors took a 29-8 lead into halftime.
Spencer started the second half strong as Claudia Krause, Madison Knecht and Rebecca Mlsna made baskets, but the Rockets went the final 14 minutes without scoring and Neillsville pulled away.
“It was a different scenario for everybody, with a post player playing guard, and honestly we were just trying to keep it close,” Spencer coach Krystal Weier said. “It was the turnovers. When you have more turnovers than points, it’s going to be an issue. Their pressure got to us today and Neillsville is always good at that.”
Trunkel finished with 22 points, Paris Opelt added 17 points and five rebounds, and Emma Moseley chipped in eight points in the victory for Neillsville.
Knecht had five points and Amber Becker had six rebounds for Spencer.
Despite the chance at a conference title slipping away with the loss, Weier said her team, which features six seniors, is ready to move forward and get ready for the playoffs that begin in less than three weeks.
“My first year here they (the seniors) were sophomores and they were used to losing,” Weier said. “The first year you just have to change their mentality and tell them they can do this. The second year they were ‘heck yeah, we can do this and we can actually win close games.’ This year, it’s phenomenal to see them progress. You can see the competitiveness in all of them and its one special group for sure.”
Both teams are off until next Tuesday when Neillsville hosts Colby and Spencer travels to Loyal for Cloverbelt East contests.
Warriors 57, Rockets 14
Neillsville 29 28 - 57
Spencer 8 6 - 14
NEILLSVILLE (57): Delaney Rochester 1-6 4-6 6, Ava Mortenson 0-1 0-0 0, Emma Moseley 4-7 0-0 8, Amelia Trunkel 8-13 2-2 22, Kylie Boyer 1-2 1-2 3, Paris Opelt 8-12 0-0 17, Kati Mayer 0-2 0-0 0, Amanda Schneider 0-1 0-0 0, Paige Voight 0-1 1-4 1, Skyler Hart 0-1 0-0 0. FG: 22-46. FT: 8-14. 3-pointers: 5-14 (Trunkel 4-7, Opelt 1-2, Boyer 0-1, Mortenson 0-1, Rochester 0-1, Mayer 0-2). Rebounds: 18 (Opelt 5). Turnovers: 13. Fouls: 9. Fouled out: none. Record: 18-2, 13-0 Cloverbelt Conference East Division.
SPENCER (14): Hallie Meyer 0-0 0-0 0, Madison Knecht 2-2 0-0 5, Jorie Meyer 0-5 0-0 0, Claudia Krause 1-8 1-2 3, Emily Wehrman 0-2 0-0 0, Rebecca Mlsna 1-2 0-0 2, Amber Becker 1-2 0-2 2, Montanna Kohls 0-0 0-0 0, Kaelyn Schreiner 0-0 0-0 0, Sam Soback 0-1 2-2 2. FG: 5-22. FT: 3-6. 3-pointers: 1-3 (Knecht 1-1, Meyer 0-1, Wehrman 0-1). Rebounds: 20 (Becker 6). Turnovers: 34. Fouls: 13. Fouled out: Mlsna. Record: 14-6, 11-2 Cloverbelt Conference East Division.