Verona rolls over Craig to Big Eight co-champions
The Wildcats donned Big Eight Conference champion T-shirts, posed for a team photo, hopped on the team bus and headed home.
Mission accomplished with a 15-3 conference record and 16-4 regular-season mark—and now it’s on to WIAA tournament play.
Verona shares the Big Eight title with Middleton after the Cardinals downed Janesville Parker, 59-52, Thursday at Middleton.
The Verona girls made sure there was no mistake they had something to play for against Craig (6-14, 5-13). The Wildcats scored the first 11 points and never trailed.
Craig could muster only one field goal and two free throws in a 17-4 first quarter against the Big Eight’s stingiest scoring defense.
“We keep digging ourselves that early hole,” said Craig coach Mark Marsden. “This is the fifth game in a row we’ve done that. I don’t know why.
“No matter what combination we use, it seems like we let teams get up on us, and they just start playing harder,” he said.
As well as Verona played in the first quarter, there was a Wildcat letdown. Craig closed to within 30-25 early in the third quarter, but Verona came back with an 11-0 run to put the game out of reach.
Marsden was not surprised by Verona’s dominant play.
“They were at state last year and a game away from the championship game,” he said. “We don’t have an answer for (Leslie) Schaefer. She is just too big and too skilled.
Schaefer, a 6-4 senior, led all scorers with 20 points and ruled the lane at both ends of the court. Ali Tackett, a 6-foot junior, gave Schaefer plenty of support underneath and added 12 points, while 5-5 senior point guard Aly Bucierka ran the floor flawlessly for the Wildcats and scored 16 points.
Senior Whitney Storbakken led Craig with 11 points. Emily Hinman, a junior, scored nine.
Following the third-quarter spurt by the Cougars, Verona coach Angie Murphy called a timeout and settled her team down.
“We just got into a lull, and Craig got back in the game,’’ Murphy said. “You expect that from Craig. They are a good basketball team, and they’ll make a run on you.”
Verona played a technically solid all-around game, but Murphy highlighted team rebounding and moving the ball up the court.
“We did a great job transitioning tonight, which was good to see,” she said. “We got some easy buckets when we needed them.”
Craig enters Division 1 tournament play Tuesday at home against Kenosha Tremper. Verona has a Tuesday bye and hosts the winner of the Burlington/Westosha Central game in regional final on Saturday, Feb. 28.
VERONA 63, CRAIG 34
Verona (63)—Bucierka, 7-2-16; Schaefer, 8-4-20; Tackett, 5-0-12; Cropp, 2-0-4; Zwaga, 1-0-2; Pfeffer, 4-1-9. Totals: 27-7-63.
Craig (34)—Smith, 1-0-3; Morgan, 3-0-6; W. Storbakken, 4-0-11; Hinman, 3-3-9; Hamilton, 0-1-1; Marshick, 0-1-1; T. Storbakken, 1-0-3. Totals: 12-5-34.
Verona 17 11 20 15—63
Janesville Craig 4 13 14 3—34
Three-point goals—Verona 2 (Tackett 2), Craig 5 (W. Storbakken 3, Smith, T. Storbakken). Free throws missed—Verona 3, Craig 7. Total fouls—Verona 11, Craig 11.
Sophomores—Craig 41, Verona 32. Craig leading scorers: Grace Van Veldhuisen, 8; Emily Legried, 7; Kylee Kennedy, 6.