Panthers show resilience, but unable to finish vs. NR
The Ellsworth girls basketball team (2-3, 0-3) has solidified three areas of focus for their 2017-18 season: rebounding, free-throw shooting and controlling possessions.
These three components of their game were what put the Panthers on top over the New Richmond Tigers (3-2, 2-2) after one half of play, but were also what ultimately sunk the young Ellsworth team in their Tuesday, Dec. 12 conference game.
The Tigers got off to an early 15-5 lead five minutes into the game, but after Jason Janke revived his Panthers team in a timeout, his girls went on a 10-0 run to create a whole new ball game.
After the game, Janke said his team got off to a similar start at New Richmond's court last year, but weren't able to secure a large run and get back in the game.
"This group is much more resilient," Janke said in comparison to last year's squad. "I was proud of them for [the run], because that is not easy when you're a young team and a team that's not accustomed to winning. When you get blown out of the water early, as recently as Friday, we didn't fight back. Tonight we fought back."
The Ellsworth head coach recognized that his 2017-2018 roster is very similar to the prior year's, but this year's includes one major addition: Autumn Earney.
Earney, a freshman, led all scorers with 22 points in Tuesday night's game, and helped give the Panthers a 36-31 lead at halftime by scoring 10 first-half points.
The Panthers' halftime lead was also due to their eight appearances at the free throw line in the first half of play.
Earney, Emma Swanson and Nadia Sigler all played aggressive offensively by driving to the basket and drawing fouls against their NR opponents. With 2:05 left in the first half, the Tigers committed their tenth foul, and Ellsworth took advantage of their double-bonus perk.
Camryn Richards, Swanson and Sigler all got to the line in the last two minutes of the half, which brought the game to a tie at 30-30 with 1:20 left in the half.
Then Kaitlyn Nugent took over.
The sophomore guard had two big assists and a coast-to-coast layup to give the Panthers a six-point lead at the half.
"The first half felt a lot more uptempo, and we were rebounding and taking care of possessions," Nugent said after the game. "In the second half, we got a little out of control."
The Panthers went on an 8-0 run to start the second half, and didn't give up a second-half NR bucket until Lorin Bauer hit a three with 13:47 left on the clock.
Ellsworth was able to maintain a comfortable lead for most of the half by running a patient offense and staying out of foul trouble, and once NR's Audrey Feuerer fouled out with 4:12 left on the clock, it seemed as though the Panthers were bound to pick up their first MBC win of the season.
But the Tigers slowly picked away at the Panthers' lead by drawing fouls and challenging the Ellsworth guards with their full-court press. The Tigers created two quick Panther turnovers, which they converted into eight points to narrow Ellsworth's lead to 63-61 with 1:24 left in the game.
Under pressure, the Panthers made silly fouls and sent the Tigers to the line five times in the last minute-and-a-half of play. The Tigers shot 15-for-24 from the line in the second half, compared to Ellsworth who shot 10-for-15 from the charity stripe after the break.
NR's Amelia Feuerer went one-for-two from the line to give the Tigers a three-point lead with 3.4 seconds left in the game, and an Ellsworth miss from deep finalized the Tigers' 66-63 win.
"I thought our kids played a pretty good ball game, and just didn't finish very well," Janke said following his team's loss.
"Our kids haven't been in a lot of close games like this, and they're accustomed—over the last couple of years—to not winning them," Janke said. "It is part of the process, but nonetheless, it's frustrating when you're that close at the end and give it away."
After the game, Janke told his team that a lot of teams would have folded when down 13-2 early on, and that they were to be proud of overcoming the early deficit.
"I think the kids have a lot to be proud of," Janke said. "They did some really good things, we just have to learn how to finish."
Ellsworth's Caitlin Dahl did not play in Tuesday night's game due to an ankle injury. Richards saw more minutes to replace Dahl, and added six points to her team's effort.
Swanson joined Earney in the double-digit territory with 12 points of her own, and Olivia Lynner finished the night with seven points.
The Tigers were led in scoring by Bauer who finished with 20.
Janke said his team can expect a similar game in their next matchup at home against Somerset on Tuesday, Dec. 19.