Stunning Thill-led rally nearly produces miracle finish in regional final loss
A fairy-tale season came to an end for the Ozaukee girls’ basketball team in a WIAA Division 3 regional title game against Watertown Luther Prep last Saturday.
Despite mounting a furious rally in the final minute, the Warriors were handed a 45-44 loss at Sheboygan North High School.
“We just needed a couple of baskets to fall for us,” said Ozaukee coach Lee LeMahieu, whose team finished with a 20-5 season record that surprised many fans.
“The girls played hard and battled to the end. We had a very good comeback, but it was not quite enough.
“It was a disappointing loss, but I was not disappointed with the girls’ effort.”
The Warriors, who won their first two tournament games after sharing the Central Lakeshore Conference title with Oostburg, were sparked on their post-season run by a diminutive dynamo named Kaitlyn Thill.
The 5-foot-4-inch senior point guard capped her career as one of the top players in Ozaukee team history by leading a frantic comeback.
Ozaukee trailed, 43-33, with just 1 minute, 35 seconds left, when the rally began. At the 1:17 mark, Jeanette Lapinski hit a three-point shot to pull the Warriors within 43-36.
The final minute was characteristic of Thill’s consistent leadership and tenacity. In the closing seconds, she came up with three steals, six points and an assist despite playing with four fouls.
Two of the steals led to Thill baskets that cut the deficit to three points with 45.6 seconds left.
Thill came up with another theft on Luther Prep’s inbounds pass, was tripped but kept her dribble and found Caitlin Siesco open for a layup that pulled Ozaukee within 43-42 with 28 seconds to go.
With 15.8 seconds left, the Warriors fouled Lydia Free, who had made just two of five free throws to that point in the game. However, Free hit both attempts to put the Phoenix up, 45-42.
Thill had one final chance to rescue her team. After taking an inbounds pass with 12 seconds left, she raced the length of the court and got into the lane hoping to draw a foul.
Thill scored while drawing contact, but no whistle was blown, and time ran out on the Warriors.
Ozaukee’s determined finish mirrored its strong start in the game. The Warriors held a 13-8 lead after the first quarter only to be outscored by 10 points in the second period by Luther Prep, which held a 26-21 edge at halftime.
Ozaukee pulled within 33-31 after three periods.
Perimeter offense was a problem throughout the game for the Warriors, who made just two of 18 three-point attempts.
“We struggled with our outside shooting against their zone,” LeMahieu said.
Thill finished the game with 19 points, 10 steals, five assists and four rebounds.
Hillary Johnson grabbed a team-high eight rebounds for Ozaukee before fouling out with 4:23 to play.
Luther Prep (16-9), which advanced to sectional play this week, was led by Free and Johannah Crass with 12 points apiece.
The Warriors opened the eyes of many naysayers who predicted they would finish no better than fourth in their conference. In addition to sharing the top spot, they handed co-champion Oostburg both of its CLC losses.
“Looking at the big picture, this was a very successful season — 20 wins and a conference championship,” LeMahieu said.
Thill broke the Ozaukee single-season scoring record with 480 points and ended her career as the second-highest scorer in Ozaukee history, trailing only Courtnie Paulus. Thill is also the Warriors’ single-season and career leader in steals and their
career record-holder in assists.
LeMahieu also singled out his other seniors — Lapinski, Siesco and Erin Hartnett — for their leadership this season.
Ozaukee 53, Random Lake 43
Fast starts in each half propelled the Warriors to a regional semifinal victory at home on March 11.
Ozaukee took a 20-10 lead in the first quarter, only to have the Rams rally with a second-quarter run that gave them a 29-27 edge at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Warriors stepped up defensively and took charge with a 16-4 run.
“This was a tough game. Random Lake played well,” LeMahieu said.
Thill led the Warriors with 22 points and seven rebounds.
Hartnett had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Ozaukee 59, Pardeeville 21
Thill’s strong all-around performance sparked the Warriors in an easy first-round win at home March 9.
She finished with 18 points, 12 steals, six assists and five rebounds.
Everyone scored for Ozaukee by halftime, including two freshmen who joined the team for the playoffs. The Warriors got several solid minutes from both Katie Bares and Emily Thome, who both received extended playing time in the second and
Ozaukee jumped to a 20-3 lead after one quarter and held a 40-7 advantage at intermission.
Lapinski had her best game of the season with nine points and nine rebounds.
Hartnett finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
KAITLYN THILL sparked a late rally, but the Ozaukee girls came up one point short in a season-ending defeat Saturday. Photo by Sam Arendt