Tigers face tough sectional challenge

Greg Ceilley of The Review staff

THE HOWARDS GROVE TIGERS celebrate after winning the regional basketball title Saturday night against Random Lake. – Photo by Terry Schaller THE HOWARDS GROVE TIGERS celebrate after winning the regional basketball title Saturday night against Random Lake. – Photo by Terry Schaller How well the Howards Grove Tigers handle Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs’ pressure defense will be crucial to the Tigers’ hopes for an upset in the Division 4 girls sectional basketball semifinals Thursday, March 5.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Fond du Lac High School. HGHS, which lost to Springs in its season opener (48-19), is 17-7. The Ledgers, 22-2, are ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press D-4 poll.

The teams met in the regional semifinals last year and the Ledgers rolled to a 59-38 win. In the season opener and the regional matchup, the Ledgers’ pressure defense forced many turnovers.

The Tigers and head coach Heidi Georgeff are up to the challenge of facing a team which returns four starters from last year’s D-4 state semifinalist.

“We’ve faced some tough opponents this season in Plymouth, Kiel, Valders and Waukesha West. We’ve been battle-tested and we are up for this challenge,” said Tiger head coach Heidi Georgeff.

“We have to be playing our best basketball on Thursday. We might be the underdog going into this game but at this point records don’t matter. What matters is only this game.

“I think the keys are finishing on the offensive end and taking care of the basketball. We have to attack the basket and not just pass around their zone,” said Georgeff.

“Defensively, we have to stop [Kelli] Schrauth and [Melanie] Schneider and we need to win the rebounds and 50/50 plays. Springs went to state last year and I know they are hungry to get back, so we need to match that desire.”

Schrauth, a senior forward, is the Ledgers’ top scorer with a 17.0 points-per-game average. Schneider, a senior guard, is the team’s second-leading scorer at 10.9.

Georgeff offered her impressions of the Ledgers.

“They play a tough 1-3-1 defense that causes a lot of turnovers which can lead to easy transition points for them. They are led by an outstanding post player in Kelly Schrauth and one of the best guards, in my opinion, in the state in Melanie Schneider,” said the Tiger coach.

“They are more physical and aggressive than the teams we see in the CLC. It’s an interesting match-up because Sam Yancy [Tiger 6-foot sophomore forward] is a very athletic post player but not necessarily that physical and we don’t have a guard that’s 5-10 like Schneider.

“They outsize us overall but that’s something we face regularly. They have a lot of experience on their side [eight seniors], whereas we start four sophomores,” said Georgeff.

She pointed out what impresses her the most about Springs.

“They are well-coached, smart basketball players. They have a great understanding of the 1-3-1 and what they need to do in it,” said Georgeff.

“They mix it up with different traps and they will also extend fullcourt pressure. Their high-low sets are hard to defend,” she said.

“This is a matchup of two teams that are very familiar with each other, having played a nonconference game for the last several years and meeting in the playoffs several times,” said Ledger head coach Mitch Redig.

“Howards Grove is a young team with a nice group of athletic players that play hard and are wellcoached. I see this being a game between two teams that take pride in playing defense and are balanced on offense.

“In order for us to be successful, we must use our length and athleticism to pressure Howards Grove, defensively, in both the full and half court. We must then use our defense to get out in transition to attack the basket. We must also take advantage of our height and our experience,” said Redig.

Redig said execution in his team’s half-court offense and limiting HGHS to one shot are keys for the Ledgers.

“Defensively, they [Tigers] really dig in and dictate how you will run your offense. They are balanced on offense and do a really nice job of sharing the basketball,” he said.

Georgeff said her young team has grown a lot since it played Springs at the start of the season.

“At that point, we only had five kids who saw varsity minutes last season. Now our younger kids have the varsity experience and have gotten over the transition to the varsity level,” she noted.

“We are a solid defensive team and we pride ourselves on that. My girls aren’t intimidated by anyone. They fight hard. When we put it all together we can play with anyone.”

The Tigers have a balanced attack, led by sophomore guard Brittany Schaller with a 9.4 scoring average. Senior guard Morgan Edge is No. 2 in scoring at 9.3, followed by Yancy, 9.1. Yancy is the top rebounder at 6.9 per game.

Edge leads HGHS in assists with a 2.8 average and Schaller is first in steals at 2.4 per game.

Redig said senior leadership, experience and depth have been key reasons why his team has performed so well.

“Melanie Schneider and Kelli Schrauth are four-year varsity starters and three others, Destiny Ottery, Liz Bohn and Caitlin Fellers, are three-year varsity performers. Our girls have bought into the team concept and are committed to doing whatever is needed for our team to be successful,” he said.

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