Prescott onto Bloomer, Ellsworth says goodbye to seniors
There was no upset in Tuesday night's No. 6 vs. No. 11 girls basketball playoff game.
The No. 6 Prescott Cardinals (14-9) ended the Ellsworth Panthers (4-17) season with a 75-57 victory in the WIAA Division 3 regional game on Feb. 20.
Autumn Earney scored the first point of the night from the free-throw line to give the Panthers their only lead of the game. The Cardinals took off on a 9-0 run from there that was sparked by a Haylee Yaeger basket and capped off with two Kaelyn Lewis threes.
The Panthers were forced to double-team the 6'0" Yaeger in the paint, which led to opportunities for the Cardinal shooters, which they took advantage of. Prescott connected on five of their first-half three-point attempts — three of which came from Lewis. Allie Murphy and Bella Lenz created Prescott's other two first-half three's, and Murphy's ignited eight straight points from the junior Cardinal point guard.
Murphy, a third-year varsity player, said she came into the game remembering when the Cardinals hosted the Panthers back in 2016.
"It was the same situation," Murphy said. "We were the sixth seed and they were the 11th seed, and they came down here and beat us. I think that was a lot of my motivation to not let that happen again."
The veteran point guard's experience showed on the court as she directed traffic and brought the Cardinals to a 20-8 advantage. Murphy finished with 11 points in her fourth career playoff game.
Freshman Lenz helped lead the Cardinals to a 46-24 halftime lead and finished with 15 points at the break. Ellsworth's starting freshman, Autumn Earney, led the Panthers with 13 points at halftime.
"In the first half we let the game get away, and we don't have the type of offensive firepower to make up that kind of deficit," Panthers' head coach Jason Janke said.
The Panthers came out in full force in the second half, but couldn't quite dig themselves out of the 22-point hole they created in the first half. Despite never getting within single digits of the Cardinals, the Panthers refused to go down without a fight against their rivals.
"I thought our kids played a fantastic second half," Janke said. "We played them even, and I don't think they took their foot off the gas, so our girls deserve some credit there."
However, Lenz proved to be unguardable in the second half with her long wingspan that crossed up Ellsworth's defenders, creating driving lanes for the freshman who led all scorers with 26 points.
In their first-ever playoff game, Earney led the Panthers with 18 points, and sophomore Holly Carlson chipped in 11 points for the guests.
"We have a lot of varsity players coming back, but the truth is, we haven't had a lot of success," Janke said. "The truth of the matter is we have a lot of competition, and that breeds good things."
The Panthers have only won 10 games over the course of the last three seasons, but Janke has hope for the future of his team's program.
"These are great kids," Janke said. "They always play with class, and they're learning to compete a little harder. The program has not had a lot of success, but it's time to turn it. As coaches, we have to take some strong leadership in the offseason.
"We have to do some things that haven't been done."
The Panthers are poised for what's to come, but have to say goodbye to three seniors — Caitlin Dahl, Taylor Feuerhelm and Olivia Matzek — who have been exemplary role models for their Panther teammates.
"Jill, Marcie and I have been lucky to have those girls lead our program," Janke said. "Who wouldn't be proud to be their coach?"
"It hasn't really hit me yet," Dahl said after her last high school basketball game. "I'll miss the bond that I had with everyone, but I'm still going to come back and cheer them on, so it'll be nice to see how much they've improved."
At the start of the season, Feuerhelm told the Herald how much she and her fellow seniors loved their team. That still rings true four months later.
"I think that's going to be the hardest part," Feuerhelm said. "Just [missing] going to practice every day and seeing all of them."
The class of 2018 has faced many bumpy roads in their basketball careers, but their bond has remained strong throughout.
Matzek's varsity experience was turned upside down with knee injuries that kept her sitting on the bench for the vast majority of her career. The senior Panther said her basketball career has not gone the way she had hoped for or expected, but that she's been able to remain positive thanks to the support of her teammates and coaches.
"There were points in the season where we'd get discouraged, but then [Janke] would bump us right back up," Dahl said.
As for the Cardinals, they'll travel to Bloomer on Friday, Feb. 23 where they'll face the 19-3 No. 3-seeded Blackhawks.
"They play really good defense, so their defense and our offense should matchup pretty well," Murphy said.
The Blackhawks are led in scoring by 6'2" Sierra Raine who averages 11 points per game. Yaeger, who finished with 10 points against the Panthers, will be tasked with guarding Raine on Friday night.
"If Haylee comes to play, she's hard to stop," Prescott head coach Ron Murphy said. "We like how we matchup with [Bloomer], and if we shoot the ball well, we can play with anybody."
Tip-off for Friday night's game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Bloomer High School.