Girls basketball: Panthers start season victorious

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Greg Bates, Times Herald Correspondent

After two years of starting on the Oconto Falls girls basketball team, Kennedy Kratz has a different role this season.

The senior is coming off the bench as a spark plug.

In the Panthers’ first game of the season, Kratz made her presence felt and did exactly what she needed to do. Oconto Falls held a 33-30 lead early in the second half against Antigo when it used a 10-0 run to take control. The host Panthers never looked back, pulling off a 47-39 victory in nonconference action Thursday.

“The girls played very hard, great effort — played with a lot of energy and were on the floor,” Oconto Falls coach Mike Kaczmarek said. “We have a long way to go with our pressure (defense). There are times we’re trapping when we shouldn’t be. It’s going to be a work in progress, and we might not have that down until next year.”

Oconto Falls won just three games all of last season, so winning the first game this year should give the players a lot of confidence moving forward.

“I told them, ‘We can’t go undefeated if we don’t win the first one,’” Kaczmarek joked. “It means a lot after last year. It was a rough year. It was a big win for these girls. They worked hard over the summer; they all put a lot of time in. Again, we’re pretty young yet.”

Kratz and Olivia Steffens are the only two seniors on the team — and neither of them started — and haven’t won two games during their careers.

“I think we’re honestly not used to winning a lot, and I think that should just push us forward,” Kratz said. “We’ll keep that in our heads every practice here on out.”

Even though Kratz didn’t register eye-popping stats in the game – she finished with six points – she did all the little things that don’t show up in the box score. Kratz created turnovers, got steals, defended with great ball pressure, pulled down offensive rebounds and dished off to open teammates.

Kratz got a steal and threw a shovel pass to Breanna Sadowski for an easy layup to tie the game at 7-7. A short time later in the opening half, Kratz got an offense rebound and put-back basket to give Oconto Falls a 17-16 lead. The Panthers never trailed from that point on.

“I just tried to come off the bench with a lot of fire and get everybody fired up,” Kratz said. “They were a little slow to get going. But I just try my best when I’m out there to get after everything and make the most of my time out there.”

Oconto Falls (1-0) scored the final five points in the final minute of the first half to take a 26-21 lead into halftime. Antigo (0-1) cut its deficit to three, 33-30, early in the second half. But back-to-back baskets by Morgan Helmle and Emma Huberty helped pace a 10-0 run to make it 43-40.

“They just got fired up,” Kratz said. “They just decided, ‘We’re not going to be that team anymore that just sits there and lets people walk all over us.’ I think that was very important to start off the first game knowing this is a different year and this is a new team.”

Kaczmarek credits his team’s tenacious defense for creating turnovers and fueling the double-digit spurt.

Antigo didn’t score for a seven-minute stretch and hit just four field goals the entire second half.

For how well Oconto Falls played in a number of facets of the game, free throw shooting was not one of the bright spots. The Panthers were a measly 13-33 from the line, 2-9 in the opening half.

“If we become better free throw shooters, which is going to be tough to do, but if we shoot 50 percent, this is a 15-point game,” Kaczmarek said.

Huberty, who averaged 3.8 points per game last season as a sophomore, tallied a team-high 10 points. Sophomore Kari Albrecht added eight.

Kaczmarek is hoping his players can build from the victory.

“With a win, it’s easy to build,” Kaczmarek said. “They have to buy into it, and I think they’ll come in and buy into it. We just have to continue to improve as far as the defensive end, and we have to pick up the energy even more so, because we can’t go through game lulls like we did tonight.”

As a senior leader, Kratz won’t let her teammates forget about the opening-game win.

“I hope we take this and run with it,” Kratz said. “It should be a fun year, I hope.”

Antigo (39)

Zenkovich 3 4-6 10, Weix 1 0-1 2, Brown 1 0-0 2, Nedden 0 0-2 0, Hotchkiss 1 5-8 7, Nagel 3 1-1 7, Mauk 0 0-3 0, Smith 5 1-2 11.

Oconto Falls (47)

Brauer 2 4-6 8, Kratz 2 2-7 6, Sadowski 2 1-3 5, Helmle 1 2-6 4, Huberty 3 4-6 10, Shallow 2 0-3 4, Katelyn Albrecht 1 0-0 2, Kari Albrecht 3 0-2 8.

Antigo 21 18 — 39

Oconto Falls 26 21 — 47