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There weren’t any first-time jitters for the Martin Luther girls basketball team in the state tournament.

Instead, the players made themselves feel at home at the Resch Center.

The Spartans turned an 8-point second-half lead into a 17-point cushion in a matter of 6 minutes, 44 seconds against Bloomer and pulled away for a 56-38 victory in a WIAA Division 3 state semifinal on Thursday afternoon.

“I think as always this season, it’s been our defense that’s led us,” Martin Luther coach Corey Scheel said. “That’s what was a big part of our game tonight was our defense. Our goal is to always hold people under 40 points, and being able to do that tonight just is a testament of how hard these girls work. They bought into the game plan and knew what we needed to do.”

The Martin Luther players didn’t worry about playing on the big stage for the first time.

“Everyone was really nervous for our sectional final game, and then we came out and won that, so once we got here everyone was a lot more relaxed,” Martin Luther senior Emily Hafemann said. “We just are so ready to play, and it showed on the court.”

“Once we got on the court, we just played,” Martin Luther’s Emma Kallas said. “We knew what we had to do and we just did it.”

Martin Luther, which has won 25 games in a row, was led by Kallas off the bench with a game-high 21 points on 10-for-14 shooting. Kallas, who had 16 points in the sectional semifinal, finished with nine layups.

“I think the reason why I scored so much was because I always sprint down the court and know that I want that transition bucket, so that was a lot of my points,” Kallas said.

Hafemann and fellow senior Grace Amling both scored 10 points. Just like all year, the Spartans had balanced scoring and were tough to stop. Only two Martin Luther players averaged double figures during the season.

“That’s been what we do,” Scheel said about his team’s balanced scoring. “We’re not just one outstanding player. We’ve played a lot of teams this year that have that one stud, that 20-odd-point scorer. But when we’re going 12, 10, eight, seven, six, it’s like, who do you pick to stop?

“That balance has been what’s got us to this point. We play together as a team and everybody helps each other out.”

Bloomer (22-5) got a team-high 15 points from Chandler Zwiefelhofer.

Martin Luther (26-1) never trailed and heated up early in the opening half. Kallas hit a jumper to put the Spartans up, 11-4. Bloomer (22-5) got with within four, 16-12, before Martin Luther answered with an 8-3 run to take its biggest lead of the game, 24-15.

Martin Luther, which led 28-21 at half, was up by a 34-26 count with 12:47 remaining in the second half before blowing the game open. The Spartans got 7 points from Hafemann during a 13-4 run to make it 47-30. The Spartans maintained at least a 12-point lead the rest of the way.

The run by Martin Luther was fueled by plenty of points in transition.

“We know that once we get the rebound, we listen for Grace (Amling) and we’re all just streaking up the floor,” Hafemann said. “We even had a couple fastbreaks where the ball didn’t even touch the ground. That is just a great testament to how unselfish our whole team is. We’re always working. We’re not worried about points scored; we’re worried about a team win."

Bloomer coach Nikki Seibel could never cut its deficit under double digits in the second half.

“I think they got some momentum, some loose balls,” Seibel said. “They moved the ball really well around the perimeter, and just were able to get a couple of open looks. Then, we just had a couple times down the floor where we had a couple turnovers where we weren’t able to lessen the gap, and I think that just kind of extended it there.”

There’s still one game left in the season and one final goal to check off, but coach Scheel knows how important it is for the Martin Luther program to play in the state title game.

“This is just an unbelievable feeling – unbelievable journey and a ride that we’re on,” Scheel said. “At the beginning of the year, this summer, in fact, we knew we had the opportunity to get to this point, at least to make this tournament and these girls have bought in from Day 1. If you would have told me we’d be where we’re at 26-1 and 25 in a row, you’re crazy but I’d take it. We’ve played a tough schedule, we’re battle-tested. And for this program to get here, it’s a testament to the hard work that these girls have done since they were little girls, as soon as they picked up a basketball.”

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