Northwood girls still aliveThe Evergreen girls defeated South Shore 53-47 Saturday in a WIAA Division 5 regional final game. Northwood (19-5) will next face Washburn (20-5) at 7 p.m. Thursday in Hayward. Washburn defeated Winter 70-48 Saturday.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
MINONG — For the second time in three years, the Northwood girls basketball team is headed to the sectional tournament.
The Evergreen girls defeated South Shore 53-47 Saturday in a WIAA Division 5 regional final game. Northwood (19-5) will next face Washburn (20-5) at 7 p.m. Thursday in Hayward. Washburn defeated Winter 70-48 Saturday.
“The feeling’s incredible,” said Teagen Harings, one of two seniors on the Northwood team. “I’ve been a part of something like this before, but I didn’t have a main role in it. Something like this for the team — we’ve had our ups and downs over the season — this is a huge step forward. The feeling’s indescribable.”
Harings, who led the Evergreens Saturday with 16 points, was a member of the team in 2010 when Northwood won the regional title and then advanced to the state tournament for the first time in school history. The same core group of players led Northwood to the regional finals again last year, but those girls have graduated.
The Evergreens lost seven seniors from the 2010-11 season, including the team’s top three scorers, who combined to provide 64 percent of the Evergreens’ scoring and 56 percent of the total rebounds last season.
“When we graduated the kids last year, a lot of people maybe thought that we were just going to fade away,” said Jason Schultz, head coach of the Evergreens. “It says a lot that we’re here. These are hard-working kids. They’re not the same group, they don’t play the same way and are maybe not as flashy, but they still get the job done.”
Northwood senior Rachel Pollock was thrilled Saturday night to be heading to sectionals, especially following the Evergreens’ narrow 41-38 victory over Shell Lake in Friday’s regional semifinal game.
“We just came in wanting it that much more from yesterday (Friday) being such a close game,” Pollock said. “I think tonight we just came out with that much more fire knowing today was the championship.”
Northwood’s victory Saturday was fueled by strong team defense. When the Evergreens play quality defense, Schultz said, the team gets into a flow and the points add up quickly.
“When our press works, we score,” Schultz said. “When our press doesn’t work, they score and we don’t. It’s that simple.”
The Northwood girls scored their points in bunches during the first half Saturday, as the Cardinals were flustered by the Evergreens’ full-court press. Northwood used an 8-0 run over the course of two and a half minutes in the first quarter to take an 11-4 lead, and in the second quarter they scored 11 points in one minute to take a commanding 22-10 lead.
South Shore also struggled with foul trouble in the first half.
At the start of the second quarter Emily Gustafson, the team’s second leading scorer, picked up her third personal foul 17 seconds into play and spent the remainder of the first half on the bench. Emily Gustafson and her younger sister, Megan, scored all of the Cardinals’ points in the first quarter.
“That definitely hurt us,” said Don Moore, head coach of the Cardinals.
With Emily Gustafson on the bench, the Evergreens stepped up their attack and led by as many as 14 points before ending the first half up 28-17.
Northwood’s largest lead of the game was 41-23 midway through the third quarter, but then South Shore began to rally, led the 6-foot-2 Gustafson sisters.
“We just didn’t pick it up; we weren’t moving,” Moore said. “We didn’t start moving until the fourth quarter, and once we started moving, that’s our game.”
In the fourth quarter, the Cardinals outscored Northwood 12-3 in the opening five minutes of play to make it 48-43 in favor of the Evergreens. South Shore remained just five points behind until Harings took a pass inside to give Northwood a 50-43 lead with 1:59 to play. The Evergreens then closed out the game going 3-for-5 from the free-throw line to preserve their 53-47 victory.
“They made a nice comeback,” Schultz said of South Shore. “They hit a couple shots that I wish they didn’t, obviously, but they’re a good team. They’re tough to close out.”
Harings led Northwood with 16 points, while McKayla Waggoner had 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Morgan Block finished with 11 points — eight in the second half — and Sarah Benson and Elise Burns both had six points each.
“This year we haven’t been a huge offensive team,” Harings said. “We’ve been taught that offense wins games, defense wins championships, and we proved it tonight. We definitely came through on defense.”
The Evergreens finished the game with 15 steals and held South Shore well below its season scoring average (62 points).
Harings led the team with five steals, and Block and Waggoner added three apiece.
“Tonight I really knew that I had to step it up, especially on defense,” Harings said. “They’re a good team, and they have two 6-foot-2 girls, so I knew that defense was going to win tonight.”
The Cardinals were led by Emily and Megan Gustafson, who had 17 and 14 points respectively. The Gustafson sisters also combined for 11 blocks and 25 rebounds.
Janice Anderson was 6-of-8 at the free-throw line and finished with 11 points, and Andrea Tuura hit a pair of big shots in the fourth quarter to add five points.
“I think they tried their hardest,” Moore said. “We had a great season this year. The seniors stepped up — every game there were there, every practice they were there — and they tried to be the leaders of the team.”
Playing their last came for the Cardinals were Ashley Botosh, Danielle Kavajecz, Andrea Turra and Haley Stouffer.
South Shore finishes its season with an 18-7 overall record.
Northwood plays Washburn at 7 p.m. Thursday in Hayward in the Division 5 sectional semifinals. The winner of Thursday’s game will advance to play in the sectional championships Saturday in Spooner.
The Evergreens will have another 6-foot-2 player to worry about Thursday in Washburn’s Stefanie Siroin, who is averaging almost 20 points per game to lead the Castle Guards.
“We’re just going to have to bring ten times the intensity we brought tonight, work that much harder in practice,” Pollock said. “It’s going to be a lot tougher.”
NOTES: Saturday marked the first time in six years that the Northwood girls basketball team did not face Siren in the regional finals. From 2007 to 2011, Northwood and Siren faced off every year in the finals. Siren won the match-up three of the five years, including last year in double overtime. … South Shore won a Division 5 regional title in 2011 but had to forfeit its chance at sectionals when a pre-planned band trip to Seattle left the Cardinals with only four players. “Last year they got to the championship and won and couldn’t go further, and so they wanted to get back,” Moore said. “They got back at least. They’re a bunch of good kids, all of them.”
Northwood 11 17 17 8 — 53
South Shore 8 9 14 16 — 47
Northwood — Teagen Harings 16, McKayla Waggoner 14, Morgan Block 11, Sarah Benson 6, Elise Burns 6.
3-point goals — Harings 2, Waggoner.
South Shore — Emily Gustafson 17, Megan Gustafson 14, Janice Anderson 11, Andrea Tuura 5.
3-point goals — Anderson.