The two teams appearing in Friday's second Division 3 girls basketball state semifinal boasted one combined senior, meaning chances are good that Kewaunee and Dominican could meet again in next year's state tournament.
For Dominican, that represents some solace from its first loss of the year.
Kewaunee built its lead to 13 points and held off a late push to top the Knights, 61-56, at the Kohl Center in Madison. Dominican came into the meeting with a 26-0 record but fell short of the state championship game in its first trip to the WIAA state tourney.
Deysha Smith-Jenkins finished with 21 points, and Mishayla Jones added 20, but Dominican leading scorer Dilonna Johnson was saddled with foul trouble and finished with 2 points, and the Storm made a strong first half stand despite intensified Knights pressure down the stretch.
"They ran their halfcourt sets extremely well and took us out of a rhythm a little bit in the first half," said Dominican coach Kevin Schramka. "They had a nice surge where they hit two threes and then another three and built up that lead. In the second half, we started getting into more of what we've done all year; we put a lot of pressure on the ball and make it hard for teams to get the ball across halfcourt."
Dominican cut the Kewaunee advantage from 9 points at the 5:23 mark in the fourth quarter to 4 points with 2:33 left, forcing 10 second half turnovers overall. Johnson had fouled out on a loose ball chase with 6:48 left in the game, but Dominican was still able to put together its late surge, with Jones and Smith-Jenkins leading the charge.
"We didn't have our best first half of the year, but we played more like we did the whole year in the second," Schramka said. "We did everything to get back in and actually had a chance to tie it. It's a tribute to our girls who came off the bench and our starters. We never stopped battling."
Dominican had possession with just a 3-point deficit on two occasions in the final 2 minutes, but the Knights never landed a game-tying blow. Kewaunee enjoyed a considerable rebounding advantage (34-22), including two rebound putbacks that replenished the lead to 5 points in that home stretch.
"Throughout the whole year, we've been able to somehow match the other team's bigness," said Schramka, whose team doesn't have a player taller than 5-9. "We played some really big teams this year. It just didn't happen for us today."
Said Smith-Jenkins, "we're obviously a smaller team, but we always play with heart. Heart always beats height, but we were a little short."
Kewaunee showed it was capable of running with Dominican's up-tempo attack, taking its share of breakaways and building an 11-5 lead that grew to 27-17 by halftime.
"We wanted to get a quick start and stop their offensive threats as soon as possible," said Kewaunee coach Lynn Geier said. "We knew they were going to score on us. It's hard to stop a team with this much talent offensively."
Kewaunee's greatest triumph was limiting the impact of Johnson, who scored 32 points in the sectional semifinal win over East Troy.
"We came up and set some screens on the elbow outside the three-point arc," Schramka said. "They were hedging and staying with her, so we never really got her as many open looks where she could square her shoulders up off that high screen. They took that away early and Dilonna had to try to create a lot on her own, and it was just one of those games."
Kewaunee (24-3) advanced to face Altoona in the Division 3 championship game Saturday.
"We're young and we're still hungry," Smith-Jenkins said. "We haven't been satisfied yet, so we'll be back."
The Knights were left with a still-superb 26-1 record.
"To win 26 in a row, it's so hard to do," Schramka said. "We answered the bell the whole year. The girls always came back and answered the bell, and it was all on them. They were phenomenal the whole year, and today it just didn't happen for us."
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