Girls basketball: Oconto Falls stifles Clintonville for conference win

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Panthers jump back over .500 in NEC
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Oconto Falls’ Alexis Euclide, left, drives past Clintonville’s Erin Viergutz during the second half of Thursday’s North Eastern Conference clash at Oconto Falls High School. (Times Herald photo by Morgan Rode)

The Oconto Falls High School girls basketball team has leaned on its defense to find success on the court this winter season. The team’s defensive prowess was on full display again on Thursday, as the Panthers stifled Clintonville and eased to a 50-34 North Eastern Conference home win.

“Defensively, we really worked on jumping to the ball and making them cut behind us. That was an emphasis the last two days,” said Oconto Falls coach Michael Kaczmarek Jr. after the win. “And we did that. I thought we took them out of their game, not allowing them to cut in front of us and then we also had backside help…”

Oconto Falls (7-4, 5-4 NEC) took control of the game early on. The hosts scored the first eight points of the contest, with four different players getting to the basket and converting field goal opportunities.

A pair of buckets from junior Morgan Helmle extended the Panthers’ lead to double digits, 14-4, for the first time and forced a Clintonville timeout.

The two teams traded points for the rest of the first half, with Oconto Falls taking a nine-point lead to halftime.

Helmle and senior Sammy Shallow each scored seven points to lead Oconto Falls in the opening half. Seven different players scored for the Panthers in the opening 18 minutes.

“A huge key to our success is that we don’t depend on just one person,” Helmle said. “We have a lot of strong players throughout the whole team that can come into the game and get the job done. We know it takes all of us and we are able to practice that way which then carries over to games.”

The teams traded baskets early in the second half, with Shallow and freshman Alexis Euclide each converting two field goals for the Panthers to extend the team’s lead to 12.

Oconto Falls maintained its double-digit lead before pulling away in the final eight minutes of the game.

A basket by sophomore McKayla Goebel followed by a 3-pointer from junior Kari Albrecht started a 11-3 run for the Panthers that pushed the lead to 19 with under four minutes to play.

Clintonville (4-8, 3-6 NEC) made just three field goals across the final eight-plus minutes of the game.

“I’d have to say that we really worked hard on our defense and kept going — we were really trying to wear them down and that was really effective, especially towards the end of the game,” Shallow said. “I think that’s how we also got some of our easy baskets (on offense).”

“Communication was a key tonight and we were able to study how Clintonville runs their offense — and in practice we worked on a defensive strategy that we thought would shut their offense down, which did work for us tonight,” Helmle said.

Shallow led the team with 13 points while also grabbing nine rebounds. Albrecht scored 10 points while Helmle had nine.

Euclide chipped in eight points while also recording five rebounds and five steals. Senior Emma Huberty totaled four steals.

“We definitely thought this was a major game that we needed to win so that we might be able to get two home games for the tournament,” said Shallow on how the win could help the team’s playoff seeding, as both teams will be in the same regional.

The win marked the second straight for Oconto Falls and third in the last four games.

“I think we are starting to play with a lot more confidence and then obviously that’s contagious — one girl has confidence, the next girl has confidence. The girls are just a lot more confident in themselves and every game they are coming out with effort,” Kaczmarek Jr. said.

Oconto Falls (50)

Natalie Brauer 0-0 2, Breanna Sadowski 1-2 1, Morgan Helmle 0-0 9, Alexis Euclide 0-2 8, Emma Huberty 2-2 2, McKayla Goebel 3-7 5, Sammy Shallow 2-2 13, Kari Albrecht 3-4 10.

Clintonville (34)

Lizzy Weatherwax 0-2 0, Elly Arndt 0-0 8, Abby King 1-3 7, Kaylie Branstrom 0-1 0, Jordan Lehman 2-2 4, Erin Viergutz 1-5 3, Hannah Strong 1-4 6, Lindsy Carpenter 1-2 6.

Oconto Falls 27 23 — 50

Clintonville 18 16 — 34