Wrightstown rallies late to steal one from Oconto Falls girls basketball team

Dustin Riese

As the regular season winds down for high school girls basketball, every win is crucial as teams try to put yourselves in the best position possible for the postseason.

That is no different for the Oconto Falls Panthers (12-9, 8-8) as they took to the road to take on the Wrightstown Tigers (12-8, 11-5) on Feb. 6.

Not the same Wrightstown team of old that was always contending for a league title, this year’s Tigers squad is much more vulnerable, and the Panthers knew that coming in. After falling to the Tigers 52-51 earlier in the season at home, Oconto Falls was looking to return the favor on the road, and for the most part it was looking like they would as the Panthers built up a double-digit lead early in the second half.

Then came the final eight minutes of game action when the Panthers’ offense not only went quiet, but Wrightstown found ways to sink their shots. The end results saw the Tigers close out the game on a 23-6 run, erasing what was a 10-point deficit and turning it into a 52-45 comeback win.

If the early part of the game was any indication of how things would go, this had the makings of a defensive struggle with things were tied 2-2 almost four minutes in.

That was when the Panthers started to pick things up offensively as Kyndra Staidl drove to the rim for the easy two and put the Panthers in front 7-4. Following a quick triple from Briley Durocher on the other end to tie things up, it was the Panthers continuing to go to work on the inside as Staidl and Amber Otto helped push the Panthers back in front 13-7.

Oconto Falls wasn’t finished there as Otto hustled for an offensive rebound a few plays later to convert the putback while a pair of Rylie Shallow free throws had the Panthers in command early 17-7. At some point, you had to think the Tigers would start to figure things out offensively, and all it took was a strong two-minute stretch from Ella Verbeten to get things going.

Trailing 17-9, Verbeten used her defense and turned it into offense as she went coast to coast off of a steal to make things 17-11 before knocking down a triple to pull the Tigers within 17-14.

Oconto Falls recovered late in the first half as they continued to take the Tigers best shots and ended the first half on a 9-3 run to secure a 26-17 lead at the break.

Although it was a comfortable lead, you never had the sense that the Panthers felt this would be enough to win as Otto opened the second half with another bucket to give the Panthers their largest lead of the night 28-17 before Bailee Gorman pushed the lead to 32-19 a few minutes later.

Verbeten continued to lead her team back as she played stopper to every run the Panthers had and kept the Tigers within single digits. Led by Gorman and Otto on the offensive end, the Panthers continued to maintain some distance as they led 39-29 just past the halfway point of the second half.

However, it was at that moment when things began to change as the Tigers offense put together an impressive showing. That started with a pair of Durocher free throws to make things an eight-point game, but with five minutes left, it was the Grace Peters triple that pulled the Tigers within 44-38.

With the Tigers’ defense starting to take over, it allowed the offense to settle in as Peters continued to knock down her shots from distance while Verbeten did her thing in transition to will the Tigers back 44-44 with fewer than three minutes to go.

Things continued to be a struggle for the Panthers over those final three minutes as they managed to score just one point in the waning moments and six points overall in the final eight minutes. Compare that to the Tigers and their ability to knock down shots and come up clutch down the stretch, and it was a recipe for disaster as the Tigers closed out their second half run from the free throw line to cap off the comeback win.