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Boys' basketball: Quiet March serves as wake-up call for Prescott

It's been a quiet March for the Prescott boys' basketball team, but head coach Nick Johnson hopes his team's early elimination from the 2019 playoffs will serve as motivation for the offseason. (File photo)

The madness of March is erupting for state-qualifying boys' basketball teams, but it's been a quiet month for the Prescott Cardinals.

There was no hoisting of a sectional title trophy, no rallying send-off, no game-winning buzzer beater, and the closest the Cardinals will get to center court of the Kohl Center this March is from $12 spectator seats.

The defending Division 3 state champions were eliminated from their WIAA regional bracket on Saturday, March 2, after dropping their regional title game to the St. Croix Central Panthers.

"Bottom line, we didn't play our best game," Prescott's head coach Nick Johnson said. "I do give a lot of credit to (SCC). People judge them on their record, but we knew they were better than that. They're very athletic, and we had a lot of problems."

Johnson said the Panthers' athletic abilities and big-game experience were evident down the stretch as they salvaged their regional title with crunch-time buckets and stops that held the Cardinals scoreless in the final three minutes of the game.

"We lost to a good team," Johnson said, "but that's not the way we wanted it to end."

All season, the Cardinals were reminded of the program's winning streaks that came to an end on their hands. The Cardinals' March 2 loss made this the first year since 2016 that their season didn't end at the Kohl Center, and it concluded a five-year run of Prescott sectional finals appearances.

"Obviously, we were pretty devastated; no one expected that," Johnson said. "But it was a wake up call, too."

Defense and basketball I.Q. were the main culprits of the Cardinals' four regular season losses, and putting on a Prescott jersey before a regional title game didn't make their defensive and decision-making flaws magically disappear.

"You can't just show up and win," Johnson said. "We preached a lot about defense and basketball IQ. We lost that game because of some poor decision making. I just hope our kids realize there are no guarantees after that."

The Cardinals' six seniors — Hunter Daymond, Joey Lubich, Mitch Schommer, Carson Stenroos, co-captain Brian Tayson and Christian Timmins — won't get another chance to correct what went wrong in their regional game against the Panthers, but their careers won't be defined by their final loss.

"We graduate six seniors and not all of them played," Johnson said. "I just appreciate how they could care less about that. They cared about the team and we never heard anything about playing time. They're such great kids, and they have a lot to be proud of. I feel really bad about how it had to end for them."

Members of the class of 2019 completed their senior campaign with a 19-5 record, which included a 13-game win streak, and another conference championship — a season worthy of praise for most high school basketball programs.

"We're proud of the kids; 19-5 is a really good year," Johnson said. "But the standards are very high for Prescott basketball, and we're not going to lower that bar."

The 2019-20 returners have until November to use this year's uneventful March as an igniter for the winning streaks that have yet to come for the Prescott boys' basketball program.

"We're hoping this is going to motivate them big time, and that happens with offseason work," Johnson said. "They need to commit themselves."