Defense sets the tone in season-opening win for Chargers

Dustin Riese

The first game of high school basketball season is an exciting time but one that also comes with a lot of question marks.

When it comes to this year’s Wittenberg-Birnamwood girls basketball team, things couldn’t have gone much better for the Chargers in their non-conference game against Peshtigo. The defense not only set the tone early but throughout the game, as well. After allowing just 16 points in the first half, Wittenberg-Birnamwood turned it on in the second half and allowed only seven points to cruise to an easy 60-23 victory.

“I am very proud of the girls for how they came out and played tonight,” head coach Nick Mechelke said. “It’s always nice to get the first win out of the way, especially when that can happen on opening night.”

A lot of times, it takes teams a little while to figure things out in their first game, but not so for the Chargers; they came out swinging and sent a message right from the start. It was the combination of Kit Stewart and Melaina Granquist that got things rolling as they combined for 37 points on the evening. Stewart, in particular, had a hot hand as she scored the first six points of the game for the Chargers and helped Wittenberg-Birnamwood race out to an early 8-0 lead.

“Kit (Stewart) got us going quickly and scored all of her points in the first half,” Mechelke said. “She gave us a good spark, and the team seemed to thrive off of her early efforts.”

Leading 10-2 after Peshtigo finally got on the board, Granquist started to have her way on the inside. Not only did she lead the way with 27 points and eight rebounds, but she single-handedly outscored the Bulldogs in the game.

Basketball is a game of runs, and the Chargers were all about putting together big runs throughout as they opened the game 8-0, then followed that up with a 10-2 run to bust the game wide open at 18-4. They never looked back as they managed to close out the first half by outscoring the Bulldogs 15-12 to take a 33-16 lead into the break. That came after Peshtigo tried to mount a bit of a comeback as Holly Pesch was finding ways to get to the basket with Maysen Brisette knocking down some jumpers. Fortunately, the Chargers were able to stop the bleeding as Brie Ladika connected on a pair of late first-half triples to push the lead to 17 at the break.

Already with a lead in hand, the Chargers continued to rely on their defense to begin the second half, while Ladika and Granquist took over on the offensive side. In total, it was the Chargers going on a 12-0 run to begin the half as they pushed their lead out to 45-16.

“Our defense was phenomenal tonight and played a huge role in our success,” Mechelke said. “Credit the girls for getting after it on the defensive end. We talked about what we wanted to do, and they went out and executed that plan to perfection. We pressured them all game and forced a ton of turnovers that made life easier for us.”

It took nearly nine minutes for Peshtigo to grab their first points of the second half, but they were unable to get much more than that as Wittenberg-Birnamwood outscored the Bulldogs 27-7 in the second half.

While the win is nice, it was the young guns who stole the show, as Granquist wasn’t alone in having a great game. Fellow sophomore Ladika was second on the team with 11 points with Stewart adding 10. Throw in six from junior Faith Resch and three each from freshmen Harper Rogowski and Nora Bushman, and it could be the young players who lead the Chargers this season.

“Of all the things we did well tonight, I was very pleased with how our youth played,” Mechelke said. “For most of our underclassmen, this was their first varsity game, and they did a fantastic job holding their own. If they can continue to play this way all season, we are going to be a very good team.”