Verona Area High School sophomore forward Paige Lambe made the biggest jumper in her career to help send the girls basketball team to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament.
Lambe hit a go-ahead jumper 15 seconds into the second overtime to give the Wildcats their first lead over Arrowhead in a Division 1 sectional championship on Saturday, Feb. 20. That helped fuel Verona to a comeback, 50-40 double overtime win over the eighth-ranked Warhawks, which finished the season 21-6.
“I knew it was going in,” Lambe said. “We have been practicing that shot in practice every single day turning around and hitting that jumper. It felt great to feel that support from my team to take that shot. I normally don’t shoot outside.”
Verona (8-4) seeded third in the sectional, knocked off both of the top-two seeded sectional teams to advance to state. The Wildcats clipped second-seeded and No. 11-ranked Kettle Moraine 55-54 in overtime in a sectional semifinal on Thursday, Feb. 19.
It marks Verona’s first state tournament appearance since the Wildcats won a Division 1 state title in 2016. Verona received a fourth seed in the state tournament and will play top-seeded Germantown (27-1) in a state semifinal at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27 at theMenominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh.
“It still feels super unreal,” Verona freshman guard Taylor Stremlow said. “I have talked about it with my parents, and there are only six teams from Verona who have ever made it to state. We are probably one of the youngest teams to make it. I will have to pinch myself to wake up.”
Verona 50, Arrowhead 40, 2 OTs
The heroics from Stremlow and Lambe helped propel the Wildcats to a win over Arrowhead in the sectional final on Feb. 20.
WIth Verona trailing by three points, Arrowhead appeared content passing the ball around and holding it for the final minutes. Stremlow came up with a steal and scored on a layup and was fouled. She converted the traditional three-point play by knocking down the free throw to tie the game at 39 with 1 minute left to send it to a first overtime.
“I definitely had to get up to pressure the ball to get an opportunity,” Stremlow said. “Any time they would get up in regulation and the two overtimes they would pull the ball back out and stall and hold for one shot.”
The pressure defense paid off for a Verona team that relies on quickness that can turn the tide.
“Taylor just has a knack for finding the ball,” Verona coach Angie Murphy said.
In the second extra session, Lambe’s jumper ignited an 11-1 run by the Wildcats. Verona shot a combined 8 of 10 from the charity stripe in the overtimes and finished the game shooting 75% at the line (15 of 20).
Verona freshman Reagan Briggs scored a team-high 15 points. Stremlow added 13 points and was 5 of 5 at the free throw line.
The Wildcats used a combination of 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones and face-guarded Arrowhead 6-foot-3 junior Alaina Harper. In Verona’s 50-41 loss to Arrowhead Feb. 8, Harper had a monster game with 16 points, 22 rebounds and six blocked shots. Lambe, freshman Lyric Burns and junior Lexi Stremlow took turns bottling up Harper on Saturday, limiting her to only eight points and four rebounds.
“All three of them did an excellent job on defense,” Murphy said. “It’s not always showing up on the stats.”
Lambe chipped in nine points and Lexi Stremlow added six points. Verona freshman Maia Ellis made a critical play when she grabbed an offensive rebound and went to the basket, forcing Harper’s fourth foul.
“That was a huge game-changer,” Murphy said. “The good thing about this team is no one cares about stats. They just want to win.”
Verona 55, Kettle Moraine 54
Briggs converted a three-point play with 5 seconds left to propel the Wildcats to a heart-pounding win over No. 11-ranked Kettle Moraine.
Verona jumped out to a six-point lead at the half. The Lancers outscored the Wildcats 25-19 in the second half to force overtime.
Briggs scored a team-high 18 points. Taylor Stremlow scored 15 points and Megan Murphy added 13 points.