Tigers are regional champs after OT victory

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Gillett vs. Wausaukee in sectional semi-final Thursday at Pulaski
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Gillett High School senior Willow Pecha drives to the basket during Monday’s WIAA Division 5 regional final overtime victory over Oneida Nation. (Times Herald photo by Jacy Zollar)

Fifth-seeded Gillett overcame a first-half deficit to force overtime and upset No. 1 Oneida Nation 66-65 for the WIAA Division 5 regional title on Monday. Head coach Justin Daul had one phrase to sum up the victory: “What an answer.”

The Tigers, who trailed by nine points at halftime, battled back in the second half and forced back-and-forth lead changes. With under two minutes to play, Sydney Young secured the Tigers’ lead with back-to-back opportunities from the line and hit 4-of-4 free throws to lead 55-52.

Oneida Nation’s M’Kenzy Ackley converted a layup with 12 seconds, Willow Pecha added one point from the line for Gillett and an Ackley layup at the buzzer tied the score 56-56 at the end of regulation.

The Tigers held a one-point lead with 40 seconds remaining in the four-minute overtime period, and a Thunderhawk foul sent Gillett’s Karissa Schaal to the line with 18 seconds. Schaal hit both game-winning free throws, and another layup by Ackley left the Eagles one point shy with four seconds left to secure Gillett’s regional championship.

Just a freshman, Schaal also led the team in scoring with 18 points.

“I have no words,” Schaal said. “It’s amazing. As a freshman, this is an amazing thing to be a part of. To know that your teammates can help you out and get you the ball and work as a team, I have no words for how great that was.”

“To have a freshman hit those free throws at the end … what an answer,” Daul said. “Oneida’s a great team. We knew it was going to be a tough fight coming in here. We battled them both ways on the court. I told them at halftime that this thing wasn’t over and that our press was starting to take hold and they were going to get themselves back in it, and they all did such a great job together to do that.”

The Tigers’ success came from the line, in which they went 22 for 29, including 9 for 10 in the final six minutes.

“To be honest, I don’t know that I’ve had that all season,” Daul said. “We’ve had some free throws cost us a couple big games this season, so to nail big free throws when we needed them … what an answer.”

Gillett (19-6) had a 1-1 record with Oneida Nation (19-4) going into the regional final. The Tigers dropped a 17-point game on Dec. 4 at Oneida Nation before defeating them 66-53 at home on Feb. 15.

“This is probably one of the toughest places in the (Marinette & Oconto) conference to come play,” Daul said. “We came here as underdogs, but we never really felt like it. We wanted to redeem ourselves from losing here earlier this season. These girls were hungry for it.”

“We’re so young, so we knew that Gillett was coming to attack,” Oneida Nation head coach Jamie Betters said of the team’s senior-less roster. “We knew it, we were practicing for it after playing them twice already, we kind of know their style. So to be able to go down to those seven seconds against a seasoned team, that’s what we live for, that’s what we play for.”

Gillett won eight of its last nine games. The winning streak leaves Daul confident as the team takes on No. 6 Wausaukee (18-7) in the sectional semifinal on Thursday at Pulaski.

“I told them a couple weeks ago that anything is possible and we just need to keep going 1-0 each week, and we’re on a roll right now.” he said. “So (Wausaukee’s) another redemption game. I told my team coming into this game that I thought this was a redemption game. We lost by 17 here in the beginning of the season. I told them we need to get this one back. I knew we were going to play Wausaukee and I told them that’s a redemption game too. We did it here, we can do it again.

“We’re two games away from state. They want it, they’re hungry. This is no doubt the best basketball team I’ve ever coached; the grittiest basketball team I’ve ever coached. I believe in them.”

Gillett (66)

Sydney Young 4-5 8; Aubrey DeBausch 2-2 10; Faith Sorlie 1-1 5; Kaitlyn Schaal 5-7 11; Taylor Yonker 2-3 11; Karissa Shaal 5-5 18; Willow Pecha 3-6 3.

Oneida Nation (65)

M’Kenzy Ackley 5-6 21; Tiara Barber 3-4 15; Malia Jacobs 1-1 5; Yehli Rodriguez 0-0 4; Sadie Schuman 3-4 13; Shania Barber 2-3 4; Mercedes Ackley 1-2 3.

Gillett 20 36 10 — 66

Oneida Nation 29 27 9 — 65