Boys' basketball: SCC takes down Prescott and Ellsworth, earns regional title
The St. Croix Central Panthers earned their first regional title in 16 years on Saturday, March 2, and had to get past two higher-seeded Pierce County teams to advance to this year's sectional tournament.
The No. 5-seeded SCC Panthers (15-9) made their way to the regional title game by defeating the No. 4-seeded Ellsworth Panthers 68-53 on their home court on Friday, March 1, ending Ellsworth's season at 14-8.
The visiting Panthers shot well from 3-point range early on, and for the first time since its season-opening loss to the Colfax Vikings, Ellsworth gave up 41 first-half points to SCC on Friday night.
Ellsworth faced an uphill battle after trailing 41-30 at the break, but came out of the locker room seeking vengeance and took a 44-43 lead to force an SCC timeout. However, SCC went on a 13-4 run to garner a comfortable lead, and their bid to the regional finals was iced once Mason Anderson and Erik Lange fouled out in the final five minutes of play.
Eight Ellsworth senior players — Lange, Cole Woodland, Logan Benson, Dylan Gilbertson, Jack White, Terrell Peterson, Lucas Mallon and Wes Caldwell — hung up their high school basketball careers on Friday night, while SCC moved on to the regional title game where they were matched with the Prescott Cardinals on Saturday, March 2.
Prior to Saturday's 66-62 loss to SCC, the Cardinals (19-5) had not lost a regional finals game since the 2012-13 season when they were knocked off by the Acquinas Blugolds. But Saturday was a night for ending streaks.
SCC's win concluded Prescott's regional finals streak and their 13-game winning streak that began on January 15 after the Panthers defeated the Cardinals 71-70 on January 8.
SCC's only first-half lead came after the first basket of the night, but Prescott soon worked their way to a 20-11 lead after Parker Nilsen assisted a Jacob Doffing bucket and Brian Tayson added five quick points to the Cardinals' lead. SCC went on a 5-0 run after Doffing's basket, but the Cardinals managed to widen the deficit to 29-20 in their favor before the halftime break.
But the Panthers weren't going anywhere.
SCC began the second half on a 13-4 run, which tied the score at 33-33 with 14 minutes, 33 seconds left to play. Doffing added five points in the next three minutes to give Prescott a 42-37 lead with 11:55 left in the game, but the Panthers tied the score at 44-44 with just under 10 minutes to play.
From there, Prescott used its 3-point shooting expertise to take a 62-56 lead with three minutes to play, but costly Cardinals turnovers and an SCC 3-pointer that rolled around the rim before bouncing in regave the Panthers the lead with 1:07 left to play.
SCC used a steal-turned-layup to take a 65-62 lead with 57 seconds left in the game before Prescott missed two deep 3s out of timeouts. The missed shots forced the Cardinals to send the Panthers to the free-throw line where they sealed the game at 66-62 with 8.8 seconds left in the game.
Saturday marked the end of Mitch Schommer, Christian Timmins, Hunter Daymond, Carson Stenroos, Joey Lubich and Brian Tayson's high school basketball careers and began a new regional title streak for SCC who will face the Northwestern Tigers (19-5) in the sectional semifinals on Thursday, March 7.
This article will be updated with comments from Prescott's head coach Nick Johnson and Ellsworth's head coach Jordan Petersen.