High school sports highlights Feb. 17-23: Oconto Falls eases past Tomahawk in regional opener

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By: 

Greg Bates, Times Herald correspondent, and Times Herald Staff

The last time the Oconto Falls girls basketball program won a home playoff game, the school was in the Bay Conference and senior McKenna Larsen was the leading scorer. That was the 2013-14 season when the Panthers advanced all the way to the WIAA Division 3 state semifinals.

Oconto Falls might not get to within two wins of winning state this season, but the team pulled off its first playoff victory in five years.

Oconto Falls used a solid defensive game plan and got 23 points off the bench — including a team-high 14 points from Morgan Helmle — to cruise to a 59-34 victory over Tomahawk in a Division 3 regional playoff opener Feb. 19.

The victory moved Oconto Falls on to play at Wrightstown in the second round Friday.

“I thought we got off to a nice start defensively, then we lost our intensity,” Oconto Falls coach Michael Kaczmarek Jr. said. “We can’t do that on Friday, obviously. We have to play 36 minutes of intense basketball. It’s hard when you get off to a quick lead like that and you want to relax, but you have to fight through that and you have to play hard.”

Oconto Falls, the No. 6 seed in its regional, led by as many as 27 points in the second half — that wouldn’t have been possible without the team’s smothering defense in the first 18 minutes.

Eleventh-seeded Tomahawk scored just eight first-half points, going 3-for-12 from the field. Oconto Falls’ defense limited Tomahawk to just one free throw during an 11-minute span.

“We just kind of helped each other out like we always do, because we’re all so close,” said Oconto Falls junior guard Kari Albrecht, who scored 10 points. “We can just know what each other’s doing, and we can talk and communicate.”

“We work really hard in practice on defense and focus on that,” said Helmle, Oconto Falls junior forward. “We work harder on defense and then we get rewarded with offense. We kind of just focus primarily on that, and we do a lot of drills and focus really hard on that.”

Oconto Falls paired strong defense with some key scoring off the bench. Helmle drained four of her team’s five 3-pointers, including three in the first half, to get the Panthers going.

“I think it really gave us the momentum to keep going, and I know momentum’s a huge thing and gets the other players going,” Helmle said. “It got everybody riled up and ready to go.”

Kaczmarek has been bringing Helmle off the bench all season to provide a scoring punch from the second unit.

“Morgan has been providing good scoring all year off the bench for us, and sometimes our bench outscores our first five, which is good,” Kaczmarek said. “At the beginning of the year, I thought we were the deepest team in the conference, and I still think that top to bottom. They proved that tonight.”

Oconto Falls (12-11) led 4-2 before going on a big run to take a 30-8 lead into halftime. In the second half, Tomahawk (2-19) went on a 9-0 spurt but could only cut its deficit to 18 points.

The win was an important milestone for a couple reasons.

“Our goal was to have a .500 record this year, and we got there — we’re guaranteed a .500 season now,” Kaczmarek said. “And we wanted to get our first playoff win, and at home and we did that, too.”

Oconto Falls (59)

Natalie Brauer 1-2 9, Breanna Sadowski 0-1 2, Morgan Helmle 0-0 14, Alexis Euclide 1-1 5, Emma Huberty 0-0 2, Mckayla Goebel 2-2 4, Samantha Shallow 2-2 5, Kaelyn Allen 0-0 2, Katelyn Albrecht 0-0 4, Tori Hutchinson 2-2 2, Kari Albrecht 0-0 10.

Tomahawk (34)

Tiffany DuPlayee 1-2 3, Emily Maki 2-3 4, Jennifer DuPlayee 1-2 5, Addison Bartz 0-0 4, Sierra Graeber 6-8 18.

Oconto Falls 30 29 — 59

Tomahawk 8 26 — 34

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Wrightstown 75, Oconto Falls 61

The sixth-seeded Panthers had their season ended by the third-seeded Tigers in a Division 3 regional semifinal matchup Feb. 22.

Natalie Brauer scored 24 points to lead Oconto Falls on the court. Kari Albrecht added 16 points, while Sammy Shallow tallied 10.

Oconto Falls outscored Wrightstown by one in the second half after trailing 39-24 at halftime.

Three Lakes 57, Suring 52

The eighth-seeded Eagles could not hold a six-point halftime lead in a Division 5 regional loss to the ninth-seeded Bluejays on Feb. 19.

Paige Krueger paced Suring with 13 points, while Kylee Stelzer tallied 12.

Ryann Wagner provided nine points for the Eagles, while Wylee Van Bellinger had seven.

Wabeno/Laona 63, Lena 22

The 12th-seeded Wildcats were stifled by fifth-seeded Wabeno/Laona in a Division 5 regional opener Feb. 19.

Meckenna Portier was the only Lena player to score more than four points, finishing with 12.

Lena scored seven second-half points after trailing 34-15 at halftime.

BOYS BASKETBALL

Menasha 87, Oconto Falls 72

The Panthers came up on the wrong end of a high-scoring nonconference clash against the Bluejays on Feb. 22.

Mitchell Manns led a balanced Oconto Falls attack with 12 points. Zach Parsons chipped in nine points, while Dakota Carriveau and Brody Schindel each tallied eight.

Joey Walters, Jo Schoen and Connor Peetz each recorded seven points for Oconto Falls, which was outscored 53-41 in the second half.

Lena 57, STAA 10

The Wildcats cruised past the Cavaliers in a Marinette & Oconto Conference clash Feb. 21.

Lena held St. Thomas Aquinas Academy to three second-half points after leading 41-7 after 18 minutes of play.

Colby Borchert hit six 3-pointers and led Lena with 21 points. Max Beyer added 10 points, while Colt Carroll tallied seven.

Luxemburg-Casco 78, Oconto Falls 69

The Panthers came up short in a North Eastern Conference battle against the Spartans on Feb. 21.

Dakota Carriveau and Mitchell Manns each totaled 15 points in the loss for Oconto Falls, which was outscored 43-33 in the first half.

Joey Walters contributed 10 points, while Jarod Parsons had seven.

Suring 56, Oneida Nation 53

The Eagles edged the Thunderhawks in a M&O battle Feb. 22.

Suring outscored Oneida Nation 35-26 in the second half.

Mitchell Stegeman scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the way for Suring. Caleb Lally had 14 points and five steals, while Dequez Sepulveda totaled five rebounds and five steals.

Gillett 71, Niagara 56

The Tigers eased past the Badgers in a M&O contest Feb. 18.

Cole Long scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for Gillett. Elijah Framnes tallied 13 points, five rebounds and three steals, while Logan Krause had 11 points and 12 assists.

Logan Block posted nine points, six boards and three assists for the Tigers. Anthony Carroll had five rebounds, three assists and three blocks.

Oconto Falls 57, Fox Valley Lutheran 56

The Panthers escaped with a NEC win over the Foxes on Feb. 18.

Jo Schoen and Dakota Carriveau each connected on four 3-pointers for Oconto Falls, tallying 18 and 14 points, respectively.

Connor Peetz chipped in with 11 points, while Mitchell Manns had nine. Manns also had four assists and five rebounds. Schoen grabbed six boards.

Suring 74, Lena 46

The Eagles outscored the Wildcats by 14 in each half to claim an M&O matchup Feb. 18.

Mitchell Stegeman hit five 3-pointers and led Suring with 28 points. Stegeman also had six rebounds, three assists and five steals.

Caleb Lally tallied 25 points, Jayden Geniesse dished out six assists, and Reece Garrigan grabbed six rebounds.

Colby Borchert scored 14 points to pace Lena. Max Beyer added 11 points.