SPASH girls rally against Marshall to go unbeaten at Sentry Classic
By John Kemmeter
The Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) girls basketball team erased an 11-point deficit in the second half to win its final game of the 47th Sentry Classic finish 2-0 in the tournament.
The Panthers (8-3) won 66-62 over Watertown (8-3) at Bennett Court at Quandt Fieldhouse Thursday, Dec. 27, then came from behind to beat Division 3 top-ranked and reigning WIAA Division 3 State Champion Marshall (8-2) 62-58 Friday, Dec. 28.
“The girls are really happy about it,” said SPASH girls basketball head coach Kraig Terpstra after the win over Marshall. “They made a comment that, in their years here, they didn’t always go 2-0, but I’m thinking more long term.
“A win like this can give us confidence,” he said. “We’re still an inexperienced team and we want to build and continue to grow as a group, and tonight, I think we were able to grow with this win.”
SPASH opened against Watertown Thursday night, where the Panthers went into halftime with a 35-27 lead.
SPASH held off Watertown down the stretch for a 66-62 win, as senior guard and NAIA Division 1 William Penn (Iowa) recruit Madisyn Rogan hit four three-pointers and finished with 23 points, junior forward and NCAA Division 1 Valparaiso recruit Leah Earnest scored 20 points, and junior Joleece Pecore had 10 points.
The Panthers were back in action Friday night against reigning Division 3 State Champion Marshall, which lost 65-56 to Division 4 top-ranked and defending WIAA Division 4 State Champion La Crosse Aquinas (11-0) in its Sentry Classic opener Thursday.
The game went back and forth throughout the first half, as Rogan scored her first points in the opening half on a three-pointer with 31 seconds left that gave SPASH a 26-25 lead, while Marshall All-State sophomore guard Mia Morel hit a three-pointer just before the buzzer to give Marshall a 28-26 lead at halftime.
Marshall outscored the Panthers 24-15 to start the second half and build a 52-41 lead with 7:30 remaining, and held a 54-47 advantage with 5:07 to play, when Pecore buried a three-pointer from the right corner.
Earnest followed with a layup, and Pecore knocked down another three from the right corner to give SPASH a 55-54 lead with 4:13 left.
“Thank goodness we’re a good three-point shooting team, and you mix that with Leah’s ability to get to the rim, and I think we made it tough for them to defend in that stretch,” said Terpstra. “Joleece is a very good shooter and she also knows where to get into those creases to get those shots off, and she’s really on a good roll right now.”
Rogan followed with a three-pointer and also hit a free throw with 35.2 seconds left that gave SPASH a 59-56 lead, and after Marshall closed to within 59-58 with 18.6 seconds to go, Rogan made the first of two free throws to make it 60-58, before she missed the second.
However, Earnest grabbed the rebound and got it back out to Rogan, who knocked down a pair of free throws with 13.4 seconds remaining to close out SPASH’s 62-58 win.
“Madisyn Rogan never fails to come out and just compete her butt off,” said Earnest. “She’s the hardest worker and she is the most competitive person, on and off the floor.
“And we’ve played with each other now for three years, we’re getting pretty good at reading each other,” she said. “I knew at the end, well, she needs to be getting the ball to shoot the free throws, because she’s been the best free-throw shooter for all three years I’ve been on the team. So I’m just so happy I get to play with her, and I’m just so proud of the way she played tonight.”
“We talked about being the better team through 36 minutes,” said Terpstra. “And they might’ve been for a good chunk of it, they had us on our heels for most of the game, but I give the kids a lot of credit.
“They overcame some fatigue and just gutted out that last six minutes and really played well,” he said.
Rogan scored 18 of her 21 points in the second half and was named to the Girls National Division All-Classic Team, while Earnest finished with 26 points, 19 rebounds and five assists, as she received the Warren P. Choudoir Outstanding Player Award, the Don Friday Leading Scorer Award, and was named to the All-Classic Team for the Girls National Division.
“Leah did a phenomenal job,” said Rogan. “(In the first half) we weren’t hitting shots, I was getting taken away and Leah knew what she had to do.
“She took over, and she did what she needed to do to keep us in the game, and that’s big for a player,” she said. “We need that as a team.”
The Panthers (3-0 in conference) are set to host D.C. Everest (2-1) at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4, in a battle of the Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) co-Champions from a year ago.
SPASH is then set to play at Wausau East at 7:15 pm. Tuesday, Jan. 8, before it visits WVC leader Wausau West (4-0) at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11, as the Panthers look to build off both wins at the Sentry Classic, which extended their win streak to seven games after a 1-3 start to the season.
“It’s definitely huge momentum,” said Rogan of the Marshall win. “We started off the season rough and have won (seven) games straight, that’s huge going into conference play.
“I know we have big games coming up against Everest and West in conference and this momentum will really help us, (and) propel us into those games,” she said.