After receiving a bye from the opening round of the WIAA Division 2 regional playoffs, the Menomonie girls’ basketball team defeated the LaCrosse Red Raiders Friday at home and advanced to the regional final Monday in Rice Lake.
Though the Mustangs connected on just 24 of their 43 attempts at the free throw line, they managed to make just enough plays to come away with a 61-56 regional quarterfinal victory over the Red Raiders.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy; they have been playing really good ball lately and have beaten some good teams down the stretch here,” coach Storm Harmon said of the LaCrosse team. “We could have helped ourselves out a little bit more at the free throw line ... but we missed enough that it made it pretty close.”
It was a game that looked like it could have gone either way. The first 10 minutes of the game was a back-and-forth battle that set the score at 14-14. Menomonie’s Elle Hemauer opened up scoring with a triple from the wing and an early Mustang press had the Red Raiders on their heels. But LaCrosse broke through their press for a trio of 3-pointers and a pair of 2-pointers to keep in step with Menomonie.
Madison Davis, Tyra Boettcher and Kylie Mogen each threw in for 2-pointers, pulling ahead to 20-14 with 4:51 on the clock. Mogen then stepped to the line in bonus, connecting on both shots for an eight point Mustang advantage. Menomonie had a chance to extend that lead at the line twice more, but missed on all four shots.
The Red Raiders knew that was their chance to catch up. A jump shot, a triple and a trip to the line for two brought them back within three points at 24-21 with 1:21 to go. The Mustangs missed on their last possession of the half and with just two second left, the Red Raiders hit a clutch 3-pointer to knot the score at 24-24 at halftime.
A back-and-forth second half saw the score knot three times before the Mustangs began to pull away. At 42-42 with 8:11 left to play, Menomonie finally went on a run for nine points while Central hit a dry spell. A 2-pointer from Mogen sparked the run and closed it out with drives for two. Davis also connected for two while Hemauer and Lindsey Johnson scored a combined three points from the line.
Now with a 51-43 lead with just over five minutes to play, the Mustangs had the strategical advantage. That advantage saw them at the free throw line nine times, but connected on just six of their 18 chances.
Though the Red Raiders came back within four points with just two minutes to go, they were unable to produce enough points in their final possessions to make a comeback while Menomonie finished off their last four points from the line.
Mogen, Boettcher and Davis all saw double figure points with 21, 14 and 11, respectively. Mogen threw in for six doubles, two triples and went 3-for-8 on free throws. Boettcher made four inside shots and made six of her eight charity baskets. Davis scored one field goal in each half and went 7-for-8 at the line.
Hemauer ended the night with seven points while Johnson chipped in six. Lexi Hastings hit one 3-pointer in the second half.
Menomonie met with Rice Lake in the regional final on Monday, pushed back from Saturday due to inclement weather. During the regular season, Menomonie fell to Rice Lake in both games, a close 59-56 loss on Jan. 12 and most recently, a 62-43 loss at home on Feb. 16, when Boettcher was out due to being sick.
Coach Harmon said they will have a better fighting chance with Boettcher on the court.
“She’s really a motor for us,” he said. “She hadn’t played for a week and a half before this game and it showed at times. I think that helped to get her legs under her a bit.”
The winner of Monday’s game will move on to play No. 1 Onalaska Thursday at LaCrosse Central High School.