Shawano falls to Bay Conference champs in OT

Dustin Riese

With the regular season coming to an end and the playoffs set to begin, the Shawano Hawks (16-8) had one more piece of business to take care of as they had a chance to play spoiler Feb. 15. Facing off against the Bay Conference-leading Xavier Hawks (17-7), Shawano had the opportunity to spoil the fun as a win would allow West De Pere to tie Xavier for the conference crown.

Not only that, but sophomore Leah Nordin entered the game 12 points away from 1,000 as all eyes were on her.

Backed by an overall strong defensive performance from top to bottom, Shawano gave Xavier all they could handle as a late-game bucket from Nordin helped keep things close before the teams needed to settle things in overtime. In the extra frame, it was the Xavier defense that came up huge as they forced Shawano to commit several turnovers leading to a 61-57 OT loss for Shawano.

“I thought we played very well, especially defensively,” coach Ryan Koenig said. “We didn’t shoot well from the free throw line, and against top teams, that can’t happen if you want to win.”

The intensity on the floor was apparent from the opening tip as Halle Vande Hey opened the scoring with a bucket on the inside. She was responsible for four of her team’s first six points, but it was Shawano that did its part to keep things close, trailing 6-5 early. That was until Abby Bystol and Ella Stuber connected for five straight points as Shawano opened up their first lead of the game 10-6.

Shawano continued to maintain its lead over the next five minutes, but Xavier battled back as Faith Hafner picked up six points in a two-minute stretch to put her team back in front 18-16. Once again, Shawano answered with Natalie Bystol tying things up with a bucket down low before Stuber connected for another three to put Shawano on top 21-18. That was when the Xavier defense took over, as Elle Krull sparked a 12-4 run to end the first half with Xavier in front 30-25.

Shawano couldn’t have asked for a better start to the second half as they came out swinging. Abby Bystol wasted no time getting Shawano on the board as she opened the second half with a 3-pointer from the wing. That was followed by a Nordin put back to tie things up, with Trinity Popelka and Abby Bystol capping off a 10-0 run to open the second half to put Shawano back in front 35-30.

In desperate need of points, Joy Krull put an end to the Shawano run with a bucket on the inside before Carsyn Stempa tied things up with a triple. Stempa would follow that triple up with a steal to move Xavier in front as their 11-2 run gave them a 41-37 lead. The remainder of the second was a mix of sloppy play and stingy defense as neither team made things easy for the other.

Xavier maintained their four-point lead until late in the game when Stuber drove baseline to convert the and one, only to miss a free throw. That was followed moments later by another Nordin bucket as Shawano managed to pull within 46-44 only to tie things up 48-48 to force overtime.

For Nordin, her quest for 1,000 will have to wait as she finished with 11 points to end the game at 999.

With just four minutes standing between them and the end of their regular season, it was the Xavier defense that came out swinging and turned defense into offense. In total, Xavier used a 9-3 run to begin the overtime period and held a 57-51 lead. That brief stretch is what Koenig felt was the difference in the game.

“We had a few too many turnovers in overtime,” he said.

Down by six with less than two minutes to go, Abby Bystol kept things interesting as her and one pulled Shawano within 57-54. Elle Krull extended the lead to 59-54 with an easy layup on the other end only to have Popelka pull Shawano within 59-57 with fewer than 30 seconds to go. That was as close as Shawano would get as Xavier iced the game with a pair of free throws to claim the outright Bay conference title 61-57.

Shawano will return to the court Feb. 23 when they travel to New London for their regional semifinal game.