LA CROSSE — A sluggish start took its toll.
The McDonell girls basketball team needed time to get going in its Division 5 state semifinal against Wisconsin Rapids Assumption. The Macks were finding open looks to be few and far between, with a lid seeming to reside over the rim for long stretches.
Eventually, McDonell did find its rhythm. As the Macks gained steam, the 14-point Royals lead on the scoreboard shrunk to one.
But unfortunately for the Macks, time ran out.
McDonell’s rally came up just short in a 46-43 defeat at the hands of Assumption on Thursday at the La Crosse Center.
“Once we got over the unsettling of our nerves, I just think if we’d have had 10 more minutes it might have been a different outcome,” McDonell coach Don Cooper said. “But I’m very proud of our girls, very proud of our season.”
The Royals moved on to defeat Three Lakes for the state championship, while McDonell’s dream season ended one game away from playing for a gold ball. The Macks were playing at the state tournament for the first time in school history.
As each team struggled to break through the other’s defense, the squads trotted into halftime with Assumption ahead 19-16. But the Royals stayed resolute on defense early in the second half as their own shots started to fall. It led to a 33-19 lead with 10 minutes to play.
Finally, a jumper by Laneyse Baughman injected new life into McDonell. Her basket sparked an 18-5 run for the Macks as they closed to within one point of the lead with two minutes left.
But a couple of baskets by the Royals padded the lead and forced the Macks to foul to extend the game. McDonell could only watch as Assumption iced away the victory at the free throw line.
“We tried to speed them up at the end which worked a little bit better, but we were just kind of feeling our way through it,” Cooper said. “I’m proud of the way the girls played. Our coaches came up with a great game plan, it just fell a little short.”
The Macks needed to overcome a shooting percentage which hovered around 25% for much of the first and second half. They did well to recover and make a game of it, but Assumption’s zone defense did enough to move on to the title game.
The Royals (15-8) held a McDonell team which shot the 3-pointer better than any other squad at the Division 5 state tournament to 5 of 17 from beyond the arc.
“Having to chase around shooters is something that’s difficult at this level,” Assumption coach Ryan Klein said. “You have people on the court that can make shots all over the place, so the attention to detail on the defensive end is something that our girls are buying into now and seeing great success because of it.”
McDonell rode its own defense to get back into the game in the second half. The Macks grabbed a few key steals and were able to string together stops to breathe life back into their season.
But there just weren’t enough ticks left on the clock.
“I think it just took us a minute to get into our rhythm, and I think it was just a little too long,” McDonell senior Anna Geissler said. “If we would have gotten in it faster, I think it might have been a different outcome.”
Lauryn Deetz led the Macks with 11 points and seven rebounds. Geissler added eight points, and Marley Hughes tallied seven of her own.
Assumption’s Ainara Sainz de Rozas led all scorers with 16 points.
It was on defense where the Royals shined. With 6-foot-4 Emily Bohn patrolling the paint in the heart of the zone, the Macks didn’t go to the rim much. Speed in Assumption’s backcourt made open looks from deep difficult to find too.
McDonell knew the Royals would present challenges coming in. The Macks just couldn’t hit their groove early enough.
“We knew exactly what they were going to do, and they executed it very well,” Cooper said. “They took us out of our rhythm shooting, and we had a lot of quick shots — one shot and done — instead of being patient and getting the best shot available. But again, it’s hard to play in this type of atmosphere, and I just thought the girls did great when they got settled in.”
The defeat ended a landmark season for McDonell. The Macks broke through with their first-ever trip to state, setting a new bar for the program. They finished with a 12-4 record.
Geissler will be the only graduation loss from this year’s team as the sole senior on the squad.
“It was a great experience, and I’m so thankful that I got to be able to do it with my teammates,” Geissler said. “I’m really grateful for them and the experiences we had together. I’ll remember them for the rest of my life.”
Assumption 46, McDonell 43
Assumption (15-8): Emily Bohn 13, Sam Nelson 2, Ainara Sainz de Rozas 16, Jessie Grundhoffer 11, Kayla Kerkman 4.
McDonell (12-4): Marley Hughes 7, Abagail Petranovich 2, Anna Geissler 8, Lauryn Deetz 11, Destiny Baughman 6, Emily Cooper 1, Amber Adams 4, Emma Stelter 2, Laneyse Baughman 2.
3-point goals: Assumption 1 (Sainz de Rozas), McDonell 5 (Geissler 2, Hughes, Deetz, D. Baughman).
Halftime: Assumption 19-16.