GREEN BAY — They came, they saw, they pressured the heck out of the ball, and they gave themselves a chance to play for the WIAA Division 4 state girls basketball championship on Saturday.
Much of what the Aquinas Blugolds did in beating Crandon 75-38 In Thursday’s first semifinal at the Resch Center reads the same as the description of any other game they have played.
Traps near midcourt led to turnovers, passes tossed into the lane resulted in turnovers, and forced jump balls resulted in turnovers. The story has been rewritten in similar fashion many times this season.
Crandon (22-3) was buried in turnovers during its first state appearance, and the Blugolds (27-0) stepped over it to get the chance to play in the championship game for a second straight year.
“We knew what we were going to be up against,” Crandon coach Keegan Kincaid said. “We’d seen them on film, but seeing it versus being on the court with it is different.”
Top-ranked Aquinas (27-0) plays second-ranked Melrose-Mindoro in the championship game at 12:45 p.m. Saturday after the Mustangs (27-0) blew out Manitowoc Lutheran 64-30 in the second semifinal.
The Blugolds made the Cardinals’ lives miserable from the opening tip to the final horn. Crandon turned the ball over 29 times and even passes that reached their intended targets were tipped regularly.
Aquinas had 19 steals, and sophomore Lexi Donarski forced five of them. The turnovers, coupled with a scoring binge from sophomore Taylor Theusch after Donarski left the game with two fouls.
Theusch scored all 13 of her points in the first half and made 3 of 6 attempts from the 3-point line. At one point, she went on an 8-1 run by herself to give the Blugolds a 25-9 lead.
“We know she can shoot like that,” Aquinas coach Dave Donarski said. “It feels like she shoots 90 percent in practice.”
Aquinas shot 50 percent in the first half (15-for-30), the second half (13-for-26) and for the game (28-for-56), and while that was impressive, the defense was even more so.
Theusch was 5-for-8 from the floor in the first half and didn’t take a shot in the second.
“You just have to be ready,” Theusch said of her big first half. “All of us have to be ready for the chance like that. It could be any of us on any night.”
Donarski, who matched Theusch’s team-high 13 points, was still aggressive after sitting a chunk of the first half, and she forced three steals during one four-possession stretch for Crandon.
Sophomore Courtney Becker had two of her four steals late in the second half and set up teammate Kyah Steiner for a couple of easy baskets.
Steiner, who had 12 points and made 6 of 8 free throws, scored the last nine points of the first half to give the Blugolds a 43-19 lead.
But that conversation for that run turned quickly back to defense.
“Defense is very critical in what we do,” Dave Donarski said. “To the kids’ credit, they embrace that. You can see it in their effort level and their energy level.
“When we don’t get the steal when the ball goes through a passing lane, they get aggravated. They are taking it to a whole new level.”
Steiner deflected her scoring run to credit Becker’s defensive effort.
“Court got a couple of steals and just got the ball to me,” Steiner said.