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Hornets drop conference clash with Warriors

Hornets drop conference clash with Warriors Hornets drop conference clash with Warriors

The Colby Hornets and Neillsville Warriors girls basketball programs have had their share of epic battles in the past two seasons.

During the 2017-18 season, Colby defeated the Warriors three straight times to win their first ever Eastern Cloverbelt title. The third victory that year also gave Colby their second WIAA D-4 regional championship, and an appearance in their second ever sectional semi-final.

In 2018-19, the stakes were even higher, with the Hornets fending off two challenges in the regular season with relative ease to retain their Cloverbelt crown.

The sixth meeting was a classic as the Hornets slugged it out with the Warriors to earn an improbable 44-37 come from behind victory in the WIAA D-4 sectional semifinal that paved the way for Colby’s first ever trip to the state tournament in Green Bay.

But there would be no lucky number seven on Thursday, Dec. 19, as the Warriors overcame a five point deficit early in the second half to hand Colby back to back Eastern Cloverbelt losses, in a game that could have big implications in the chase for the 2019-20 Cloverbelt title.

“We’re familiar with each and other,” Colby head coach Randy Rau said. “But it comes down to who makes more mistakes. We made more mistakes than them. We had mental lapses that we have to correct. We had our opportunities, we just didn’t capitalize tonight.”

Perhaps it was that desire for revenge, or perhaps it was that familiarity, for whatever the reason, the Warriors came up with the big plays when they needed them.

In the opening possessions of the first half, it was Warrior drives inside that gave Neillsville a early lead. The Hornets regrouped and tied things up at 8-8 as Lexi Underwood scored twice, including burying a three, but Underwood battled foul trouble all night long, and the Warriors benefited from 27 trips to the charity strip compared to just ten free throw attempts for Colby.

With Neillsville scoring in the paint, the Hornets shut off the interior, only to see the Warriors hit a pair of triples to regain the lead at 19-14.

Colby went on a 7-2 run to finish the first half that put the Hornets within one at 22-21 at the break. In the second half, the Hornets came out swinging, taking an early 27-22 lead with just under 14 minutes to play.

But once again the big plays were there when Neillsville needed them, with the Warriors getting some lucky bounces on some big shots from three.

Fouls again reared their head, with Underwood picking up five and fouling out, while Colby notched ten fouls in the second half to go with ten fouls in the first half.

“Our help defense is weak.” Rau said. “We didn’t take the extra step to close that gap. So, we just gotta be more aggressive defensively and get there. We can’t take two steps and reach - we have to get there.”

The Warriors would regain the lead off a 13-1 run that made it 35-28 in favor of the visitors as Colby struggled to get shots to fall, finishing just four of 17 from three and eight of 29 on two point field goals.

Colby closed the game with some baskets from Lexi Krebsbach, but she and Emma Peavey were the only two Hornets to score from the floor.

“We got to get the ball inside and let Hailey pass the ball and kick to open people,” Rau said about his team settling for threes. “When all you’re going to do is pass the ball around the perimeter, you’re not going to get a lot accomplished.”

The Hornets held Neillsville to just three points in the final six minutes, but the Warriors held Colby to just 13 points in the second half - a season low.

Peavey and Krebsbach were the lone Hornets in double figures, scoring 14 and 11 points. Just two other players, Voelker and Underwood added points, scoring four and five. Olivia Vollrath pulled down a team high eight rebounds, had one assist and a team high two blocks.

The Hornets are still in second place in the Eastern Cloverbelt Conference with a 4-2 record, and are 5-3 overall.

They’ll have a chance to get back to winning ways with a non-conference road game against Edgar on Friday, Dec. 27. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.