Pulaski grinds out gutsy win versus Menasha

Dustin Riese

It may not always be pretty, but a win is a win when it comes to high school basketball.

That is what the Pulaski girls endured Dec. 28 against Menasha as things were far from pretty, but the Red Raiders did what they needed to do.

After going scoreless for the first seven minutes of the game and having only four points in 11 minutes, the Red Raiders’ offense struggled to get things going as they were held to just 11 first half points. Fortunately, it was their defense that kept them alive as the offense got rolling for 36 second-half points including a late-game 17-4 run to close things out for the 47-39 victory.

“This is a good win for us, but it wasn’t pretty,” head coach Doug McElrone said. “We have been working to get better on offense all season, and we were terrible offensively during the first half. To come back with 36 points in the second half shows what we can do offensively as long as we do what we do best.”

The Pulaski offense was in all kinds of trouble early. That has been an issue at times for the Red Raiders this season as Aria Bilke and Hannah Neubert were having their way on the inside to help open up the 8-2 lead. Even with Olivia Sprangers grabbing a pair of quick buckets to pull within 10-6, it was the Blue Jays’ ability to grab the offensive rebound that proved to be the difference early as they led 15-6 late in the first half.

“Menasha has a bigger team, and we don’t have much size,” McElrone said. “One thing we do have is a ton of heart. We played terribly for a majority of the first half, but we were only down six. It could’ve been worse, but this isn’t unfamiliar territory as we have been in those spots before.”

It took nearly the entire first half for Maggie Lardinois to get her first bucket as her triple pulled the Red Raiders within 15-9 before fellow senior Ellie Mangold made things 15-11. The Red Raiders entered the locker room trailing 17-11. Mangold loved the effort her teammates played with and knew they wouldn’t panic despite their early game offensive struggles.

“We played with a ton of energy from the start despite the shots not falling,” she said. “Once the second half got going, we saw those shots start to fall. Once that happens, you can see our energy level continue to increase, and that is when we are at our best on both sides of the ball.”

Like in the first half, the size advantage for Menasha was an issue as Neubert continued to dominate on the offensive glass for some easy buckets and helped push the Blue Jays lead out to 22-14. Then the Red Raiders’ defense started to sink their teeth in, which has been their calling card all season. Whether it be finding a way to rebound or simply forcing a ton of turnovers, Pulaski used an 11-4 run to pull within 26-25, capped off by the Lily Urben layup.

McElrone knows how important defense is to his team and loved the way his girls stuck with the plan.

“We didn’t necessarily change our game plan defensively, but we did do some things to change the look we gave Menasha,” he said. “We did more trapping throughout the course of the second half and made them work for every bucket. Once we put them into uncomfortable positions, we started to get out and run, which is what we need to do in order to have success offensively.”

Trailing 29-26 following a pair of Menasha free throws, Lydia Gwidt used a nice post move to pull the Red Raiders within one before another Urben steal and finish gave the Red Raiders their first lead of the game 30-29. That lead didn’t last long as Bilke and Neubert went on to score the next six points to put Menasha back in front 35-30.

From there, it was all Pulaski as their defensive pressure helped slow down the Menasha while also leading to 15 second-half turnovers. While the Red Raiders weren’t perfect, they did what they needed to do and closed out the game on a 17-4 run.

“We have a very small team, so when we play a big team like Menasha, we need to find ways to make plays,” Mangold said. “Our wing defenders are crucial to the success of our defense, and when they have active hands like they showed in the second half, we have a good chance to beat anyone.”

Several of those points came from Lardinois who had 15 points with 13 coming in the second half. Her biggest three points came moments after Mangold tied things up 36-36 as another steal led to a fast break and the corner three from Lardinois to put the Red Raiders in front for good 39-36.

“We talked about our offense at the half, and we knew we needed to step it up,” Lardinois said. “We have a really close team so no matter the situation, we are going to stick together and be there for each other. Once we started to hit some shots in the second half, the confidence started to come back and we got into the groove we wanted to play with from the start.”

They continued to build on their lead from there as the Menasha offense went cold over the final three minutes giving the Red Raiders an impressive come from behind win. The win moves the Red Raiders back to .500 (6-6) as they will now prepare for the second half of their season.