The Prescott Cardinals girls basketball team pulled off a 72-61 win on Tuesday, Feb. 6 against their Highway 10 rivals, the Ellsworth Panthers. The Cardinals walked away with their 10th win of the season, but the Panthers put up 21 more points than when the two teams met less than a month ago on Jan. 9.
Though the Panthers (4-14, 1-12) never led in the game, they got off to a hot shooting start — something they've struggled with for most of the season — early by hitting two threes in the first five minutes of play.
"Our kids fought hard all night long from the tap, and I think that's been our problem," Ellsworth's head coach Jason Janke said. "If we don't get a shot or two right off the tap, we're in trouble. Tonight they committed to fighting and we changed up some practices a little bit, and I think you have to give the kids a lot of credit."
Ron Murphy, the Cardinals' head coach, thought his team rebounded poorly in the first half and missed a lot of easy shots, but complemented the Panthers' play.
"I thought they played pretty good," Murphy said. "They made a lot of shots, and our defense is still not where it needs to be."
The Middle Border Conference matchup featured two ties in the first half before Bella Lenz scored 10 points before halftime to give Prescott (11-9, 9-4) a 36-31 lead at the break. Lenz, a freshman, led all scorers with 24 points in Tuesday night's game.
The Panthers knew they'd be challenged with Prescott's six-footer, Haylee Yaeger, but Emma Swanson and Caitlin Dahl showed spurts of solid interior defense against one of the top MBC centers.
"We don't have anybody [Yaeger's] size; she's the difference maker," Janke said. "Emma and Caitlin did the bulk of the work on Yaeger. Emma kind of prides herself on those kinds of things knowing we don't have size."
Yaeger finished the first half with 13 points, didn't score in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but stepped up and did her thing once Lenz was benched with four fouls with 7:43 left to go in the game. Yaeger finished with 21 points as the game's second-leading scorer.
"I thought we did a good job of taking care of the ball when we needed to, and Haylee made a couple of big buckets down the stretch," Murphy said.
Autumn Earney and Kaitlyn Nugent's hot shooting kept their Ellsworth team within reach of catching the Cardinals for the first three quarters of the game. Earney and Nugent both finished with 17 points to lead the Panthers in scoring.
Both teams have two more games before they begin their playoff runs on Tuesday, Feb. 20.
"We're just going to try and get better defensively," Murphy said, "but obviously we've still got a lot of holes. If we rebound and play decent defense we can play with anybody."
"If we play like that and get a couple of good matchups, we'll win a couple of games and you never know what can happen," Janke said after his team's performance at Prescott. "I'm never going to count these girls out. They're fighters and they answered the call tonight."
Scoring for the Cardinals: Lenz 24, Yaeger 21, Allie Murphy 13, Mckenna Johnson 5, Nicole Dalman 4, Kaelyn Lewis 3, Ashley Rieken 2.
Scoring for the Panthers: Earney, Nugent 17; Swanson 7; Olivia Lynner 5; Holly Carlson, Aly Reuvers 4; Masen Bach 3; Caitlin Dahl, Nadia Sigler 2.
The Cardinals and Panthers were back in action later in the week; Prescott traveled to New Richmond (3-17, 2-11) on Thursday, Feb. 8 while Ellsworth hosted St. Croix Central (18-2, 13-0) on Friday, Feb. 9.
Prescott 59, New Richmond 55
The Cardinals picked up what coach Murphy referred to as a "good win on the road" on Thursday, Feb. 8 on New Richmond's court.
The Cardinals led 26-19 at halftime and were led in scoring by Lenz who finished with 19 points and nine assists.
Johnson had a big night against the Tigers with 12 points and finished as the Cardinals' top rebounder with nine boards.
Murphy recorded 13 points and five assists while Yaeger added 10 points to Prescott's 11th win of the season. Kaelyn Lewis added four rebounds and three points, and Mackenzie Carey chipped in with two points of her own.
The Cardinals finish off their regular season with two home games the week of Feb. 11. They host the Glenwood City Hilltoppers (4-16) on Monday, Feb. 12 then will take another shot at Osceola (10-9, 6-7) on Thursday, Feb. 15.
Saint Croix Central 62, Ellsworth 40
Ellsworth held its own with another top Middle Border Conference contender on Friday, Feb. 9, but couldn't quite hold onto its 24-22 halftime lead against the 18-2 Durand Panthers.
SCC's inside strength proved to be too much for the purple Panthers in the second half. The victorious Panthers were able to hit 11-19 second-half free throws to hold off the hosts.
Janke said Taylor Feuerhelm led Ellsworth early on with inspired defense, while on offense, Carlson sparked her team by scoring almost immediately upon entering the game. The sophomore scored Ellsworth's first three points of the game after SCC started off on an 8-0 run.
Swanson scored nine of her team-high 13 points in the opening half. SCC's Kalli Cress led all scorers with 15 points.
"Holly Carlson was a huge spark in the first half on offense and Emma, Taylor and Aly Reuvers led the defensive effort," Janke said. "Nadia Sigler played a strong, overall game."
Janke said a special highlight of the night was when senior Olivia Matzek, who has been fighting knee injuries for the past two years, scored her first point of the season.
"I've never had that experience before, but it was just cool having all of the support from my teammates and coach Janke," Matzek said. "It was a pretty cool atmosphere for senior night, and it was nice to see how many community members were there to support us."
"Our seniors led an inspired effort that had the hometown fans thinking upset," Janke said. "Our kids played a fabulous first half, but size and strength of SCC wore us down as the game wore on."
Despite dropping two games in the second-to-last week of the regular season, Janke and his staff were very proud of their players and were "absolutely impressed with the week we had."
Ellsworth will cap off their regular season with two home games: the first on Monday, Feb. 12 at Saint Croix Falls (18-1, 11-0), and the second at Somerset (10-11, 6-7) on Thursday, Feb. 15.
The Panthers will begin their playoff run on Tuesday, Feb. 20, and Matzek said she'd like to see her team surprise some people during tournament time.
"I'd like to them play to their full potential," Matzek said. "If they play to their full potential, they'll be dangerous."
Scoring for Ellsworth: Swanson 13; Earney, Nugent 5; Lynner 4; Bach, Carlson 3; Dahl, Sigler 2; April Gipford, Matzek, Reuvers 1.
Scoring for SCC: Cress 15; Mia Krogseng 14; Claire Frankewicz, Kolbi Juen 9; Abby Widiker 7; Katherine Cottrell 4; Mckenna Johnson 3; Abby Edelman 1.