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Defense has been a major emphasis all season for the Cudahy girls basketball team.

In the first six games of the year, the Packers surrendered 48.8 points per night. The team went 2-4 during that stretch. In the last 21 games, that averaged dipped down to 36.1, and Cudahy has gone 18-3.

The Packers relied on their stingy defense in a WIAA Division 2 state semifinal against Hortonville on Friday afternoon at the Resch Center in Green Bay. Cudahy, playing in its first state tournament game, limited Hortonville to just 21.4 percent shooting from the field in the second half as the Packers advanced to the state title game with a 46-36 victory.

Hortonville shot just 26.7 percent (12-for-45) for the game, while Cudahy hit 44.7 percent (17-for-38) of its attempts.

“Defense is something we take a lot of pride in,” first-year Cudahy coach Bob Maronde said. “It starts with ball pressure. I thought Camryn Kratt did an outstanding job on (Hortonville point guard) Shay Frederick, who’s just a quality player. Cam just didn’t give her anything easy, and I thought that was very important.”

Frederick, Hortonville’s leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, was held to 12 points on 3-for-15 shooting.

Things were starting to get dicey early in the second half for Cudahy as two of its starters, Bailey Eichner and Nicole Ferch, each picked up their fourth foul. Eichner went to the bench for nearly four minutes, and Ferch ended up fouling out with 8 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the contest.

Having to deal with foul trouble didn’t seem to faze the Cudahy players.

“We’ve had to handle that before this year, so it was not anything new,” Maronde said. “I thought another key to the game was when we had to take Bailey out for those 3 or 4 minutes, the rest of the team did a marvelous job of running the offense and taking care of business on the defensive end.”

When Eichner was inserted back in the game, the William & Mary commit made an impact. She scored six of her game-high 13 points in the final seven minutes. Eichner also added seven rebounds and six assists.

Cudahy (20-7) hit just one of its first six shots and had four turnovers to start the game while falling behind, 10-2. The Packers responded with a 10-4 run thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers by Kratt and Hannah Kulas to pull within 14-12. Cudahy continued its run, scoring 12 of the last 16 points to take a 24-18 lead into halftime.

“We really established a high post, so once we would bring up their defense up a little and extend them a lot more, it opened up a lot of cutting lanes and it left backdoor cuts open a lot,” said Kulas, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. “That’s where we score a lot of our points on backdoor cuts.”

Early in the second half, Eichner picked up her fourth foul with 12:54 remaining and had to go to the bench. Hortonville (20-6) pulled within a basket, 28-26, as Ferch was whistled for her fourth foul. However, Maronde didn’t remove Ferch from the game.

Cudahy was clinging to a 36-32 lead with 3:58 left before rattling off the next 6 points on layups by Kulas, Matisen Verly and Kaytlin Sagan to give the Packers their biggest advantage of the game, 42-32. As Cudahy pulled away, Hortonville missed a pair of layups and the front end of a one-and-one bonus situation.

“They executed, especially in the first half a lot better than what we did,” Hortonville coach Celeste Ratka said. “They settled in, I think, a lot quicker with all the surroundings and all that goes into this game. They’ve got a couple players that just kept making plays for them. Our kids took a little bit to settle in, and once we started speeding them up in the second half, we started to get some good things. We just couldn’t sustain it for the period that we needed to.”

Cudahy is now one win away from its first state title. It will face the ultimate test in undefeated Beaver Dam (27-0) on Saturday with an approximately 6:35 p.m. tip.

“Our mentality throughout the whole postseason has kind of been like: One more, just one more game. One more game,” Kulas said. “We kept winning, and there’s more and more. Now, it’s kind of crazy to think this is the last game, and everything we have done this season has amounted to getting to the state championship for the first time in school history. It’s just a great feeling to know we’re here representing Cudahy.”

Added Eichner: “We going up against a team that’s undefeated, but we have the heart of champions, and our coach taught us to run to the roar, so we’re going to go out and play our best.”

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