Forty years of trying to get back to the state tournament came to an end Saturday, March 7, for the Oregon girls basketball team.

The Panthers came back to beat Waukesha West 51-46 in the Division 2 Janesville Craig Sectional championship, securing the program’s third state appearance and first since the second of back-to-back experiences in Division 1 in 1980.

Oregon (21-5) avenged last year’s regional loss to DeForest with a 57-46 victory in the sectional semifinals on Thursday, March 5, at Edgewood High School.

Oregon 51, Waukesha West 46

The Panthers shook off a slow start against the Wolverines (13-13) to punch their ticket to state.

Oregon trailed by double digits in the first half, but scored the final five points to cut its deficit to 20-14 at halftime.

“We played good defense, but every bucket Waukesha West made put a little more pressure on us,” Oregon coach Adam Wamsley said. “But we knew we had a shot when we cut it to six.”

Senior guard Kaitlyn Schrimpf scored half of the Panthers’ first-half points, including a 3-pointer during the 5-0 run.

“We also made some free throws, so seeing the ball go through the net gave us some confidence,” Schrimpf said. “We had a good halftime talk and carried momentum into the second half.”

Senior guard Izzie Peterson scored seven of her 11 points in the second half and classmate Liz Uhl had all 10 of her points after halftime to propel the Panthers to victory. Schrimpf finished with a game-high 18 points.

“Our game plan was to play a better first half and mix in our press,” Wamsley said. “I have to give a shout out to my assistant coach, Dom Winters. We used our same man-to-man press in the second half, but he added the wrinkle to face-guard whenever they tried to pass.”

Madeline Anderson and Olivia Hanke paced Waukesha West with 15 and 14 points, respectively.

Oregon 57, DeForest 46

The Norskies (21-4), ranked fourth in the final Division 2 Associated Press state poll and the top seed in the top half of the sectional, struggled offensively against the Panthers’ stingy man-to-man defense.

“They run the dribble drive, so our goal was to pressure their guards on the handoffs and passes,” Wamsley said. “We wanted to tire them out and we did. I was proud of the way we made them work for every shot.”

The lead changed hands four times in the first six minutes of the second half before Oregon, which received honorable mention notice in the final AP state poll and earned the 2 seed in the top half of the sectional, seized control with an 8-0 run.

Junior guard Carleigh Roberts made a pair of free throws and a layup, classmate Jaelyn Nedelcoff made a layup and Schrimpf added a putback to put the Panthers up 35-28 with 10:15 remaining.

DeForest trimmed its deficit to one on two separate occasions, but couldn’t corral defensive rebounds down the stretch. Oregon junior forward Megan Bloyer made a layup and Schrimpf drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing to make it 45-39 with three minutes left.

Bloyer finished with seven points and pulled down a game-high eight rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end, despite playing with a sprained right shoulder.

“Rebounding is my role on this team,” Bloyer said. “I love to play physical because I’m not very tall. People underestimate me, so I love to use my strength to prove them wrong.”

“She’s not the tallest, but she makes up for it with grit, determination and toughness,” Wamsley said of Bloyer said. “Her shoulder still hurts and she still gives it more than 100%. She’s one of the best kids I’ve ever coached.”

The Panthers went 11-for-14 from the free-throw line in the final 2:04 to salt the victory and shot 79% (19-for-24) for the game.

Oregon missed its first 10 shots of the game and did not have a field goal until the 10:29 mark of the first half.

The Panthers eventually found openings against the Norskies’ extended 2-3 zone and went on a 10-2 run to go ahead 14-10 with 7:09 left. Uhl gave Oregon the lead with a pair of free throws, then drilled her second 3 of the half on the next possession.

“We had great practices preparing for their defense,” Uhl said. “We worked on cutting and filling. It’s about ball movement and team offense.”

Schrimpf recorded steals on consecutive possessions to spark another run. She passed ahead to Uhl for a layup on the first steal, then took it herself for a layup the second time to increase the Panthers’ lead to 22-14.

“We knew that our offense would come if we played defense like we normally do,” Schrimpf said. “Our shots weren’t really falling and we missed some easy layups, but the momentum of getting stops really helped.”

Schrimpf scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half, while Uhl scored 13 points of her 17 points in the first half.

DeForest senior guard Maggie Trautsch hit 3s on back-to-back possessions to close the first half. She banked in her second triple at the buzzer to cut the Norskies’ deficit to 23-20 at the break.

Senior forward Megan Mickleson paced DeForest with 12 points. Trautsch scored 10 of her 11 points in the first half. Freshman guard Jaelyn Derlein also had 11 points.

State preview

Oregon received the fourth seed at the Division 2 state tournament and will play top-seeded Hortonville (25-1) on Friday, March 13, at the Resch Center in Green Bay.

Tip-off is scheduled for 1:35 p.m.

Hortonville, undefeated champions of the Fox Valley Association, edged Onalaska 72-68 in the Marshfield Sectional championship. The Polar Bears are making their fourth straight state appearance, but have lost in the semifinals each time.

“They’re probably going to press the whole game,” Wamsley said. “They’ll try to trap us and run. A longer court might give us an advantage because they might tire out quicker. If we shoot better than we did in the sectional, we’ll have a shot.”

The Panthers handled DeForest’s press with relative ease in the sectional, but struggled with turnovers in the half court.

“We’ve been pressed before and handled it,” Peterson said. “We have to stay composed and not let one turnover turn into five or 10. We need to take it possession-by-possession.”

The winner will play three-time defending state champion and second-seeded Beaver Dam (23-3) or third-seeded Pewaukee (21-5) in the state championship on Saturday, March 14, at 6:35 p.m.

The Badger North Conference champion Golden Beavers beat the Panthers twice this season.

The Badger Conference has sent a girls basketball team to the state tournament 13 of the last 14 years. It is the fifth year in a row the league has two teams at state.

“There’s been so many good players to come through this conference,” Wamsley said. “Our seniors who’ve been up on varsity since they were sophomores have gone up against Division I athletes and competed hard against them. Playing against Beaver Dam also breeds confidence and toughness.”