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Girls' basketball: Prescott's depth dominates Ellsworth

Prescott sophomore Bella Lenz recorded 18 points and drew several fouls in her team's 93-47 victory over the Ellsworth Panthers on Friday, Jan. 4. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Ellsworth senior Claire Straub contributed nine points in the Panthers' 93-47 loss to the Prescott Cardinals on Friday, Jan. 4. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

With zero games scheduled over the holiday break, the Prescott Cardinals girls' basketball team had two weeks to prepare for their Middle Border Conference game against the Ellsworth Panthers held Friday, Jan. 4.

Once game day finally arrived, the Cardinals were ready.

Prescott's preparation culminated with a 93-47 win over Ellsworth (4-8, 1-5), and their lack of games during winter break did not result in a slow start once they retook the court.

The Cardinals (9-0, 6-0) took an early 15-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game with stellar rebounding and transition offense.

"I think we surprise teams with how fast we really are," Prescott's head coach Ron Murphy said. "You watch it on tape, and you know what we're going to do, but we still make teams play faster than they can go."

After several missed shots, the Panthers got on the board with 14 minutes, 45 seconds left to go in the first half with a basket from senior co-captain Emma Swanson, and they managed to cut a 16-point deficit to nine points by breaking down Prescott's offense with their 2-3 defense and earning 3-pointers from Olivia Lynner and Autumn Earney.

Thanks to their depth, the Cardinals were able to finish the half on a 36-15 run even when the Panthers doubled down on Prescott's leading scorer, Haylee Yaeger. Senior co-captain Allie Murphy recorded 16 first-half points for the Cardinals, nine of which came from behind the three-point line, and she finished the game leading scorer with 21 points. Earney led Ellsworth with 11 points.

Kaelyn Lewis added 11 points to her team's 30-point, first-half lead, and was a force on the boards where she created multiple second-chance opportunities for her team.

The Cardinals also took advantage of their 12 trips to the free-throw line where they shot 22-for-27 in the first half.

"Despite them being in the full-court press, we couldn't get to the (free-throw) line, and that set the tone for the half," Ellsworth's head coach Jason Janke said. "I guess we have to be stronger when going to the basket."

Up 61-31, Prescott began the second half on 12-0 run by forcing multiple Panther turnovers in the backcourt out of their full-court press and 1-3-1 zone defense. The Panthers scored their first buckets after the first five and a half minutes of the second half when Kaitlyn Nugent nailed back-to-back 3s and gave her Panthers team a boost of energy. Claire Straub and Brianna Giese also provided consistent energy to their team despite the deficit they faced by showing relentless defense, aggression in the paint and creating scoring opportunities.

"Claire has steadily gotten better, and she's doing her job," Janke said. "Brianna is a sophomore who's getting into both varsity and JV games, and when she is in the varsity game, we get a lot of energy, and some of that credit has to go to her."

Despite the Cardinals' large lead, floor general Swanson continued to praise her teammates and make crafty passes under the hoop, but by the 8:00 mark of the second half, the Panthers had dug themselves a hole too large for their liking and watched their conference game get out of hand as the running clock began to tick down and the deficit continued to increase.

After the game, Murphy commented on his team's ability to adapt to defenses that target Yaeger, and said, "We just take what teams will give us. McKenna (Johnson), Ticket (Lewis), Nicole (Dalman), Mackenzie (Carey), everybody does a nice job filling their roles."

The Cardinals' depth and adaptability has been too much for any team to handle so far this season, but the Cardinals will continue to just take one game at a time. It's worked for them so far.

"We're really just focused on the next game, and we think we're as good as anybody in the state," Murphy said. "The girls are very confident, they trust each other, and you can see that on both sides of the floor. Nobody has to carry the load; we just play as a team every night."

The Cardinals will continue their season on Tuesday, Jan. 8, when they host the River Falls Wildcats (4-5). Ellsworth will host the St. Croix Central Panthers (2-10, 1-5) on Friday, Jan. 11.

Scoring for the Cardinals: Murphy 21; Bella Lenz 18; Yaeger 14; Lewis 9; Dalman 7; Johnson, Rieken 6; Carey, Tori Benck 5; Heather Hudak 2.

Scoring for Ellsworth: Earney 11; Straub 9; Nugent 8; Swanson 6; Giese 4; Lynner, Hayley Bach 3; Masen Bach 2; Lily Puhrmann 1.