PRAIRIE DU SAC — In two previous meetings this season, McFarland senior Katie Hildebrandt and freshman Teagan Mallegni were the difference-makers in victories over Jefferson.
That trend continued Thursday night.
The 5-foot-11 Mallegni scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked four shots and the 6-2 Hildebrandt provided 13 points in leading second-seeded McFarland to a 45-33 victory over third-seeded and ninth-ranked Jefferson in a WIAA Division 2 girls basketball sectional semifinal at Sauk Prairie.
“It’s definitely exciting,” said Hildebrandt, a North Dakota State basketball commit. “After our first practice, our season got postponed (by a new health order in Dane County). So, I didn’t even know if we were going to be able to play again.
“Just being here and showing how hard our team has fought, because we didn’t know if we were going to have a season, we really showed it here at playoffs.”
The victory propelled McFarland (9-4) into the sectional final at top-seeded and third-ranked Reedsburg on Saturday — after the Spartans started their season late due to Public Health Madison & Dane County orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s crazy,” said McFarland coach Sara Mallegni, who is Teagan Mallegni's mother. “We didn’t know what to expect. I did not think we’d get five games. I thought we’d be lucky if we got that. So, this really exciting.”
Jefferson finished 19-3 and all its losses were to McFarland. Mallegni had 22 points and seven rebounds and Hildebrandt added 13 points in a 53-38 victory in January. Hildebrandt totaled 18 points and nine rebounds and Mallegni had 17 points in a 55-42 win earlier this month.
“They are the difference,” Jefferson coach Mark Peterson said. “They can do it all. They are long, they can drive, they can shoot the 3 at a high rate and they can post up. I think our 1-3-1 (zone) made them a little uncomfortable at times and made them work a little more. I think that was effective. In the end, we just didn’t score enough points.”
Senior guard Ainsley Howard led Jefferson with 10 points, while junior forward Aidyn Messmann added nine points.
Mallegni, with 10 points, and Hildebrandt combined for 18 of the Spartans’ 25 first-half points.
“I think we work really well together,” said Mallegni, who entered the contest averaging 19.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. “We are able to work off each other. She’s a really good player. She’s able to do a lot of things well on the court.”
The Spartans, leading by three points at halftime, increased their defensive intensity and scored the first six points of the second half. That was part of a 13-3 run — including seven points from senior point guard Lindsey Lonigro — that gave McFarland a 38-25 lead with 10 minutes, 17 seconds remaining.
Lonigro and Hildebrandt scored on drives and Lonigro made a 3-pointer from the right corner during a 7-0 run that capped the decisive flurry opening the second half.
McFarland outscored Jefferson 20-11 in the second half. Mallegni, Lonigro and Hildebrandt (who entered averaging 13.1 points and 8.0 rebounds) combined for all the second-half points.
“Katie and Teagan work really well together,” Sara Mallegni said. “We know if we can get them on the same page in the game, they are going to be tough to stop. We do try to have them work together as much as possible. They are both really composed and ready to play.”
McFarland moves on to the sectional final; the Spartans last qualified for the state tournament in 1999, winning the Division 2 state championship that season.
“It’s amazing,” said Hildebrandt, also a volleyball standout. “I never would have dreamed it. It’s a dream come true. It’s really fun to show how we’ve progressed from the beginning of the season.”
Peterson, meanwhile, will skip the McFarland games when reviewing this season.
“I will just focus on the other 19 games,” said Peterson, whose daughter, Sophie Peterson, was one of six seniors on the team. “I thought this group of kids really had an awesome season, with COVID, and masks and fighting through the whole season to finish 19-0 besides the three McFarland games. That’s what I’m going to remember.”