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WIAA DIV. 5 GIRLS REGIONAL CHAMPIONS - Road warriors earn two wins, WIAA regional plaque

Road warriors earn two wins, WIAA regional plaque
Senior Danielle Mann raises the WIAA Division 5 regional championship plaque while her teammates join the celebration Saturday night after the Pirates beat host Hurley 60-44 to win the program’s first regional title in 25 years. JASON JUNO/IRONWOOD GLOBE
Road warriors earn two wins, WIAA regional plaque
Senior Danielle Mann raises the WIAA Division 5 regional championship plaque while her teammates join the celebration Saturday night after the Pirates beat host Hurley 60-44 to win the program’s first regional title in 25 years. JASON JUNO/IRONWOOD GLOBE


In October, the Gilman Pirates broke one long athletic drought at their school by winning their first WIAA Division 4 volleyball regional title since 2000. On Saturday, many of those same girls ended an even longer drought.

With a 60-44 win at fifth-seeded Hurley, the ninth-seeded Pirates earned the school’s first girls basketball regional plaque since 1999, capping an impressive run of three WIAA Division 5 regional wins in five days, all on the road and with the last two coming on long trips to unfamiliar territory.

“Everyone wants to be regional champs and now to get it two seasons in a row in two different sports, it’s pretty great,” junior co-captain Kayleigh James said. “I mean, we were the nine-seed so it was very unlikely for us to be able to be in the spot that we are in now. To prove everyone wrong and for every single win of ours to be upsets, it’s a great feeling.”

Gilman’s first sectional game since a sectional final loss to Three Lakes to end the 1998-99 season takes place tonight, Thursday, at Stanley-Boyd when the Pirates will face their Eastern Cloverbelt neighbors Owen-Withee (19-7). The winner will advance to Saturday’s sectional final in Hudson against either top-seeded Clear Lake or third-seeded Turtle Lake (see page 5).

Hurley (15-12) got the unexpected home game Saturday night after beating fourth-seeded Butternut 58-55 in its regional semifinal Friday and Gilman knocked off top-seeded South Shore. The Northstars came out hot, grabbing a quick 7-0 lead. But for the second straight night, Gilman got early scoring from several sources and quickly settled in.

Danielle Mann got Gilman’s first bucket, Claire Drier got an offensive rebound, was fouled and made one of two free throws, Mann made one of two free throws and then Jaylyn Orth hit a rare 3-pointer to cut Hurley’s lead to 9-7. Allison Olynick scored off a Mann assist in transition to tie it, Addy Vick’s basket put Gilman in front 11-9 and Mann hit a 3-pointer and scored in the post for a 16-9 lead and the Pirates were on their way.

“I think after our first score, then we were like OK, we can do this,” Mann said. “Our defense really stepped up. We stopped their one tall girl (Sydney Saari), which really helped.”

“When we realized what she could do, we were like now we have to stop her,” Drier said.

“We knew they weren’t going to be as fast (as South Shore),” Mann said. “Something I think that helped was the adrenaline from the night before.”

“I think we carried the feeling of winning the plaque in volleyball again and we said we want that feeling again, so that definitely helped,” James added.

Saari banked in a 3-pointer to pull Hurley within 16-14, but Mann countered with a tough spin move in the lane and got an offensive putback. By the latter stages of the half, Gilman’s defense had settled in, the offense was clicking and the Pirates were controlling the boards. Four late points from Olynick plus a 3-pointer in the final minute from Aubrey Steinbach put the Pirates up 27-17 at the break.

“I went into the locker room and just felt like, ‘yah, we’re regional champs, let’s go.’” James said. “I was pretty confident.”

“They didn’t do much the second half,” Drier said. “It felt like they just gave up. I don’t think they were ready for as fast of a team as we are because they don’t play very fast teams in their conference.”

“You could tell those two teams were not as physical,” Mann said. “They have not played physical games and we’ve had a lot of physical games.”

The Pirates’ halftime confidence was vindicated when they went on a gameclinching 18-0 run that turned a 29-21 game into a 47-21 blowout. The run started with Chloe Irwin’s first varsity basket on a putback and included 3-pointers from Mann and Drier.

The Northstars made a late run, getting within 53-42 on two Jaana Aukee free throws with 2:40 left, but Mann scored off a Drier assist and the Pirates salted it away at the free throw line from there.

Mann scored 28 points, Olynick scored nine and Drier added six for the Pirates, who improved to 12-15 overall. Vick and James scored four points each, while Irwin, Orth and Steinbach all finished with three. Aukee led Hurley with 21 points and Saari scored 18.

With head coach Tammy Weir having to leave the team for a business trip, Nancy Mann moved up from her JV spot to lead the team Saturday. With assistance from Candice Grunseth and Robin Rosemeyer and the players themselves, the team’s co-captains said things ran smoothly.

“A lot of it was for us, but at the same time we were kind of like, let’s do it for coach too,” James said. “She wasn’t here with us, but she was another reason. We said let’s do this for her.”

Gilman 59, South Shore 51

In Friday’s regional semifinal, Gilman didn’t blink at taking on the sectional halfbracket’s top seed, getting ahead early, holding off a second-half run and then finishing the job in a 59-51 upset at South Shore, who unexpectedly finished its season at 23-3.

The Pirates said confidence within the team grew after an efficient offensive performance in the Feb. 20 regional opener, a 62-38 win at eighth-seeded Lake Holcombe. Offensive success early Friday was certainly a key to that win as the Pirates built a 20-14 lead before Mann, by far the team’s leading scorer for the season, had scored a point.

“Right before the game even, we just came into it and said, you know what, they don’t know us, we don’t know them so let’s just take it,” James said. “I think we knew that we could do it and from our Holcombe game, we played one of the best games we’d played all season. I think we carried that confidence in and we just knew.”

James had the hot hand early, scoring eight of the team’s first 10 points. Drier banked in a long two-point shot, hit a 17foot pull-up jumper to tie the game at 1212 and then hit a 3 for a 15-12 lead.

“It shot my confidence up because I normally don’t shoot a lot,” Drier said. “When I got a couple, I said, OK and just kept shooting.”

Mann got a friendly roll on a 3-pointer for her first points, making it 23-14 and James knocked down a 3-ball of her own for a 26-18 lead. In the final minute of the half, Mann scored and Olynick got a putback on a Drier miss to give the Pirates a 31-21 lead over the stunned Cardinals.

“We knew we had to keep the intensity,” Mann said.

Mann’s 3-pointer gave Gilman a 35-25 lead early in the second half, but Cardinal Faith Langley hit a 3 for her only points of the game but it started the run the South Shore faithful were expecting. The 12-1 surge gave the Cardinals a 37-36 lead with 10:32 to go, but James quieted things with a big 3-pointer, Olynick hit two bonus free throws and Mann weaved through traffic for a hoop that put the Pirates back up 4338. The Cardinals’ standout senior Emily Montgomery hit a 3 and scored again to tie it at 43-43, part of her 27-point performance, but Olynick worked off a Mann screen to score the go-ahead basket and Vick sank two bonus free throws with 5:19 left and then got a steal that led to Olynick’s three-point play. Drier found Olynick wide open in the lane for a basket that made it 52-44 with 3:55 left, Mann’s free throws put Gilman up by 10 with 2:12 to go and the Pirates finished it off from there.

“I think it was our defense that really stepped up, stopping that number 24 (Montgomery) and rebounding every single ball,” Mann said.

“Our communication was a lot better in the second half and we just wanted it so bad that we were just able to click and just take it,” James said.

James led Gilman with 17 points, Mann and Olynick scored 15 apiece and Drier scored seven. Vick scored three points and Steinbach had two.

The co-captains said the win certainly made the three-hour bus trip to Port Wing worth it, not only for them but their fans.

“You have all of our supporters who are coming three hours to watch us in a game we’re supposed to lose,” James said. “It was really cool to see that.”

“Cheering definitely helped us a lot,” Drier said. “Our bench doesn’t normally cheer a lot, but in that game it was crazy.”

Gilman’s Kayleigh James applies defensive pressure on South Shore’s Brandee Madison at the 3-point line during the Pirates’ 59-51 upset of the half-bracket’s top seed in Friday’s regional semifinal. James had a team-high 17 points in the win. HEATHER ORTH PHOTO

Gilman’s Aubrey Steinbach tries to block Andi Krall’s vision as the Hurley ball handler tries to pass out of the corner during Saturday’s regional final. HEATHER ORTH PHOTO