GREEN BAY - The New London girls basketball team knew mid-season winning at least a share of the Bay Conference title wasn't likely after it lost its second game of the season to conference foe Luxemburg-Casco.
So the Bulldogs turned their attention to a different goal – the state tournament. Despite two losses to L-C, New London was a quality team and it proved it.
New London hasn't lost since the last L-C game, Jan. 28, having strung together 12 straight wins.
The last win in the streak qualified New London for the Division 2 state tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison. Friday, New London (23-3) plays Milton (22-3) at 1:35 p.m. while the other semfinal has Luxemburg-Casco (25-1) playing Whitefish Bay (21-5) at about 3:30 p.m. The winners meet Saturday at 6:35 p.m. in the state title game.
"After we lost for the second time to L-C, we had a feeling that the conference championship was problably not an attainable goal for the year," New London coach Troy Krause said. "So at that time, we focused on our next goal which was to make it to the state tournament. So from that standpoint it feels very good to make it to Madison.
"I don't think the girls ever felt that they weren't a good basketball team and they never lost their confidence."
New London, which made two other state appearances in 2006 and 2007, won three of its four games in the postseason by at least 25 points. It beat Sparta, 41-34, in the sectional final.
The dominance is obvious, so what can it be attributed to?
"Everything with our team starts with our defense and trying to take away the other team's strengths," Krause said. "I think we've been able to do that and we've also shot the ball very well. In our three losses, we did not shoot it very well.
"Finally, the focus and determination of this group has been outstanding."
Among the outstanding girls are junior guards Tara Knapstein, the team's leading scorer (12.3 points per game), and Bridget Pethke (9 ppg.), who's second in scoring.
"After starting a little slow, Tara Knapstein has really elevated her game and has done a good job this postseason," said Krause about the junior who's averaging 16 ppg. in the postseason. "Bridget Pethke has also done a great job on the defensive end. But we've preached team all year, and that really is the strength of this group.
"We don't always need just one or two people to play well, because there is somebody ready to step up each game."
That formula needs to work Friday for the Bulldogs to reach the state title game. Krause sees this match-up as two teams that get it done different ways.
"(Milton's a) big team that likes to play more of a half-court game, which obviously is a contrast to the style we prefer to play," he said. "So I think whichever team can dictate the pace of the game will have a big advantage."
If New London can force its style and win, maybe it can get a third game against L-C and win the school's first state title. Whatever happens, two Bay teams among the Final Four in Division 2 is impressive.
"I just think it reinforces that it's a pretty good girls basketball conference," Krause said. "There are a lot of good conferences out there and I believe Bay can include itself in those discussions."
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter: @dougritchay
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