RACINE — Abby Decker and her Prairie School girls basketball teammates knew they had to play a near-flawless game Friday night.
The Hawks came close.
After losing twice to Racine Lutheran during the regular season, Prairie, behind Decker’s exceptional second-half performance, upset Lutheran 65-52 in a WIAA Division 4 regional semifinal at Lutheran High School.
The victory thrusts the No. 7 seeded Hawks (7-17) into Saturday night’s regional championship game against No. 6 seeded Living Word Lutheran at Jackson. The game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Living Word Lutheran (9-12) advanced by beating Palmyra-Eagle 51-36.
"We knew they were a very good team," Decker said of Racine Lutheran, which was seeded second in their regional. "We knew we had to minimize our mistakes to beat them."
The Hawks played efficiently at both ends of the court. On defense, they seldom gave Racine Lutheran good, open looks at the basket. On offense, they consistently moved the ball to the open player.
It was precisely the type of effort Prairie coach Alan Mills desired.
"It is," Mills responded when asked if this was his team’s finest performance this season. "We had moments, actually stretches, where we played well this season. But this was the first time we put it together for 36 minutes."
Decker certainly put it together in the first nine minutes of the second half. After scoring a mere two points in the opening half, when the Crusaders led 25-23, Decker put on a scoring clinic. The 5-foot-9 freshman guard connected on an amazing four 3-pointers during that span as the Hawks moved to a surprising 45-34 advantage.
It was surprising because the Crusaders had won their two previous meetings against Prairie by double digits: Racine Lutheran defeated Prairie 67-50 on Dec. 12 at Prairie and then beat Prairie 51-40 on Jan. 26 at Lutheran.
But Decker, who was relatively quiet in those two games, proved to be the X-factor in this outing.
"Abby Decker is a freshman but she didn’t look like a freshman tonight," Mills said. "She was great."
Lutheran coach Steve Shaffer concurred.
"She played awesome," Shaffer said. "She hit a lot of clutch shots."
Decker scored 15 points in the second half and finished with a team-high 17. She converted on 4 of 9 3-point attempts in playing 34 minutes.
The Hawks also got 16 points from senior forward Quinn Shannon and 12 from junior guard Brooke Foster, who was also instrumental in the team’s early second-half surge as she scored five points in the opening three minutes.
Lutheran saw its only real hope of winning fade away with 5 minutes, 47 seconds left in the game. At that juncture, the Crusaders, who trailed 50-42, saw sophomore standout Caroline Strande foul out.
Strande totaled 23 points in the game and increased her career total to 952, thus moving past Rachel Hasko (939) into second place in Lutheran history. Kelly Sorenson is the Crusaders’ all-time leading scorer with 1,101.
"They played well," Shaffer said of the Hawks. "They were flat-out a better team than us tonight. But I’m proud of our girls. I’m proud of what they accomplished this season."
Prairie 65, Racine Lutheran 52
McPhee 1 0-0 2, Palmen 2 3-4 8, Thompson 1 0-0 2, Foster 4 2-2 12, Decker 6 1-2 17, Larson 4 0-0 8, Shannon 6 2-2 16. Totals 24 8-10 65.
RACINE LUTHERAN (16-7)
Rosborough 1 1-2 4, Peterson 1 1-2 3, Davis 0 0-0 0, Strande 7 9-13 23, Kellner 2 4-5 8, Gardner 5 4-4 14, Seitz 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 19-26 52.
Halftime—Racine Lutheran 25, Prairie 23. 3-point goals— Rosborough, Palmen, Foster 2, Decker 4, Shannon 2. Total fouls—Prairie 19, Racine Lutheran 17. Fouled out—Larson, Strande. Rebounds—Prairie 28 (Larson 8), Racine Lutheran 28 (Kellner 11).