In the grand scheme of things, Monday night’s girls basketball game between McDonell and Flambeau doesn’t mean much.
In the moment, it felt like it did.
The Macks gave the unbeaten Falcons all they could handle, but couldn’t overcome 35 points by Flambeau’s Jordan Ludescher and fell 69-62 at McDonell. The exciting matchup between the two was a possible playoff preview, as the top-seeded Falcons (20-0) and third-seeded Macks (16-5) could meet in the Division 5 sectional semifinals.
With postseason seeds already decided, the Macks played with their cards close to their chest, not wanting to reveal anything they might use to their advantage if the two teams were to meet again.
“We have a few tricks up our sleeve, and we didn’t want to show anything yet,” McDonell coach Don Cooper said. “Before the game I said it was like when the Patriots and Giants played (in 2007) and the Patriots were going for an undefeated season. The Giants played them well and got in their psyche, and the Giants ended up winning the Super Bowl. So that’s what we want to do: get in their psyche and tell them ‘we can beat you.’”
It was an apt comparison in many ways. The Giants lost to the unbeaten Patriots 38-35 in the final week of the 2007 NFL regular season, and then went on to stun New England in the Super Bowl. Flambeau entered the game with a 19-0 record, and had yet to win a game by fewer than 12 points this season. The Macks gave them their toughest test of the winter on Monday.
Of course, none of that comparison matters unless both teams win their first three playoff games.
For the time being, it felt like a playoff atmosphere at McDonell on Monday night. A large contingent of fans for both schools was in the building, and it pumped some life into a back-and-forth game.
“It was exciting. A lot of fans here, a lot of people come to watch, it was great,” Cooper said.
Momentum swings were constant in the first half. After the Falcons opened the game with a 7-0 run, McDonell answered with seven unanswered points of its own to tie the game. A few minutes later, a pair of free throws by Megan Baier gave the Macks a 12-11 lead with 10:59 remaining in the half. Flambeau responded with a quick 9-0 run to retake the lead.
That was how the majority of the game played out. McDonell closed out the first half on a 13-5 run with the help of six points by Abby Opsal and five by Maggie Craker to pull the teams even at 27 going into the break.
The Macks took their final lead of the game shortly after halftime, as a basket by Opsal put them ahead 31-30. From there, Ludescher and the Falcons took over, reeling off an 11-2 run to take the lead for good at 41-33.
Ludecher scored 27 of her 35 points in the second half, and made a big impact on the defensive end with some blocked shots too.
“We didn’t want to show the girls anything, so we just played man-to-man (defense) to see what we could do,” Cooper said. “They’re a great, well-coached team, and she’s (Ludecher) a great player, one of the best in the state.”
McDonell kept itself in the game with several made free throws down the stretch, and rode Opsal and Baier for much of the second half. Opsal scored 16 points after halftime, while Baier had 11. The Macks shot 16 of 17 from the free throw line in the second half.
In the end though, McDonell just couldn’t slow down Ludescher. She scored 13 of the Falcons’ final 15 points to put the game away. The closest the Macks got in the final five minutes was within five points of the lead at 61-56.
Opsal finished with a team-high 24 points for the Macks, and was the team’s lone source of scoring for a stretch of six minutes in the second half. Baier added 16, and Craker had eight.
“She’s just been playing lights out,” Cooper said of Opsal. “It’s just a compliment to see her and Megan Baier having great seasons.”
Morgan Ludescher chipped in with 12 points on four 3-pointers for Flambeau.
McDonell will host a Cloverbelt Conference crossover on Thursday against a yet to be determined opponent. They open the postseason next Tuesday at home against New Auburn.