Playing at Milwaukee Vincent has proven to be one of the toughest tasks in the state for visiting girls basketball teams over the last five years or so. Friday night, it was West Allis Central that found that bit of knowledge out first hand as the Vikings prevailed over the Bulldogs in a WIAA regional semifinal, 53-35
Vincent will now face Milwaukee King in the regional final Saturday. The Vikings fell twice in the regular season to King but head coach Derick Jenkins hopes the home court advantage will boost his squad like it did Friday night.
“It’s going to be a battle but thankfully we did enough in the regular season to get home court advantage in these first two games,” Jenkins said. “We’ll see what happens as we move along, but it’s all about preperation.”
The wire-to-wire win over Central moves Vincent to 16-6 overall on the year, with just a single home loss to King in late January. Four different Vikings players finished in double digits against the Bulldogs, and it was apparent from the start it would be a balanced attack.
Seniors Sydney Howard and Nafeshia Holifield each had 12 points to lead the Vincent attack and were part of an 11-2 first quarter run from which West Allis Central never did recover. By aggressively forcing the ball inside against the smaller opponent, Vincent got to the line six times in the first frame, converting five of them.
UW-Green Bay bound Mehryn Kraker scored the Bulldogs' first four points of the game in an attempt to keep it close. Kraker managed only five total first half points and Vincent widened the gap to 11 by halftime.
“They did a good job clogging off the middle and did a good job setting the pace for the game,” Kracker said.
Kraker scored 14 second half points to lead all scorers, with 19 in her final prep game, just a tick off of her season average. The Bulldogs finish the year at 8-16 but despite the below-.500 record, coach Trudy Wahlen was proud of the effort Kraker and the rest of the seniors put forth.
“I am proud of how they did and they came out hard tonight,” Wahlen said. “We had some early turnovers and they were a little excited, and the excitement kind of got to us.
“Vincent is a great team with great rebounders and they really came after us.”
The Vikings honed in on Kraker early on and held her production down while sustaining a double-digit lead for most of the game.
“She played a tough game all the way around,” Wahlen said. “They doubled her and tripled her because they know she’s our key player so they really went after her.”
Ultimately on Friday night it was the size of Vincent that overwhelmed Central and resulted in 16 made free throws on 26 attempts for the Vikings. The balanced all around effort and the ability to stay composed during some surly moments is something Jenkins attributes to a quality strength of schedule and exposure to big games earlier in the year.
“That’s why we travelled to Chicago and had those difficult games early in the season to prepare us for March,” Jenkins said. “It doesn’t matter what record you have coming in, it’s how you are playing in March.”
Kraker's next game will be as a member of the state's premier college women's basketball program.
“We didn’t want it to be over and we knew we had a chance to win this game so we played hard,” Kraker said. “I’ve played with these girls forever so it’s going to be tough to leave this.
“This has been a great time and I love all these girls to death.”
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