Grafton girls get a charge from team’s depth

Bench provides boost in home victory over North Shore Conference foe West Bend East
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

An opponent that strikes a fear into Grafton High School girls’ basketball coach Matt D’Amato put a scare into his team on Dec. 21, but the Black Hawks came through.

And it wasn’t just the starters who helped Grafton pull away for a 65-42 win over West Bend East.

Clinging to a 36-33 lead with just less than 12 minutes to play in the second half, the Hawks went on an 18-4 run over the next five and a half minutes that escalated their edge to 54-35. The Suns never recovered.

Backup guard Maddy Wille drilled two three-pointers in the run, and backup guard Gracie McNabb nailed one from the wing after passing the ball back and forth with Sarah Aleknavicius. Backup forward Kaitlin Mangan made one free throw in the stretch.

“It’s been a long season with my shooting but I’ve been working a lot on it,” McNabb said, adding it paid off in a 2-for-4 effort on three-pointers.

D’Amato praised his reserves, especially Wille for not only sinking those two big shots but for running the offense.

“She was one of the big cogs in the wheel that started ballooning that lead — not only for the two threes that she hit but the way she was able to calm the offense down, not force anything and keep the defense moving. She executed our zone offense perfectly,” he said.

Having such a deep bench is a gift for the third-year coach.

“It’s a blessing because you look down the whole lineup and say, ‘I can put so-and-so in and so-and-so in. They’re going to come out and they’re going to play their butts off and they’re going to do whatever they can to help the team win,’” D’Amato said.

A couple of starters had their hands in the decisive stretch as well. Ashley Weir scored six points, one bucket on a fast break, one while being fouled on a pass with some pepper on it from Aleknavicius and one from point guard Emily Grisar, after which the two pointed at each other in recognition of the stellar play.

Several advantages come with having a deep team, including everyone having more fun since they’ve all play a role in the team’s success.

“We can rely on many coming off the bench. We don’t get tired. We just keep going,” Weir said.

The desire, said starting guard Ava Wilmanns, is also there.

“They all want to get in and show coach how much effort they can put in and give 110%,” she said.

Aleknavicius said quality play on one end of the court set up an easier time at the other.

“Once we started locking down on the half court, then we started causing turnovers, and that just translated to points on our offensive side,” she said.

That second-half effort helped quiet a Suns’ team that wouldn’t go away until that point.

The Hawks built a 17-8 lead in the game’s first seven and a half minutes and held a 28-14 edge before East used a 9-0 run to make it 28-23 at halftime.

“I said it before the game. This team can hang with anybody,” D’Amato said of the Suns. “They proved it last year when they came here and took us to overtime. They scare me.”

Last season, Grafton won, 85-81, in overtime. This year at home against their North Shore Conference foe, the extra period wasn’t necessary, but the Hawks still got away from some of their strengths for periods of time.

The Hawks built their leads on fast breaks and sharp passing, both from the guards and post players. If someone was open near the basket, that Hawk was going to get the ball.

“The selflessness that they have when we’re running our zone offense is what makes it so effective. They don’t catch the ball and the ball doesn’t stick,” D’Amato said.

“If we keep the zone moving, we’re able to find those easy passes for layups. We’ve proven we can do it against the 1-3-1 (zone), against the 2-3, and against the 1-1-3.”

It’s when the Hawks started making mistakes and turning the ball over in their zone offense that the Suns got back into the game.

“Once we got back to that (zone), we started to pull away,” D’Amato said.

Weir led all scorers with 21 points on 10-for-18 shooting. She had seven rebounds, four steals and three assists. Aleknavicius had 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and six steals.

Wilmanns had nine points, going 2-for-5 on three-pointers, along with five rebounds, and Wille had eight points, shooting 2-for-3 on bombs. McNabb had six points and three steals, and senior forward Ella Day had six points, seven rebound and thee assists.

Grafton had 19 steals and 18 turnovers to East’s 11 steals and 29 turnovers.

Candence Xiong led East with 14 points.

The Hawks moved to 5-1 in the NSC and 9-1 overall. East went to 2-4 in the conference.

Grafton was to play Franklin on Tuesday, New Berlin Eisenhower on Wednesday and Greendale on Thursday in the Viking Holiday Classic at Eisenhower.  Grafton retuns to NSC play at Slinger (5-1 NSC, 7-2 overall) on Friday Jan. 7.

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