After seeing very few rewards for their efforts all season, the St. Croix Central girls finally have a win to celebrate.
The Panthers notched their first basketball victory of the 2011-12 season last Tuesday when they defeated Spring Valley 48-44.
On Friday the Panthers nearly made it two straight wins. They kept the pressure on Glenwood City but couldn't recapture the lead, losing to the Hilltoppers 45-41.
The win on Tuesday was validation for the effort the young Panther team has put forth all season. Central coach Luke Fritsche said the girls have maintained a positive attitude despite the taxing schedule they face in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference.
The Panthers built a 12-4 lead in the first quarter and they held a double-digit lead for much of the game. Spring Valley was also looking for its first win of the season and the Cards weren't going to give up without a fight. The Panthers needed some clutch free throws in the final minutes to preserve the win.
"After the game, the girls' attitude was more relief than anything," Fritsche said of finally getting the first win. "We had to earn it in the end."
The Panthers have been showing signs of having a balanced offense and that came to fruition on Tuesday. Four girls scored nine or 10 points. Laura DeSmith, McKenzy Johnson and Arinn DiSalvo each netted 10 points and Taylor Refsnider scored nine as the Panthers rolled up their highest point total of the season. Refsnider also led the team with nine rebounds and three assists.
Free throw shooting helped the Panthers close out the win. They hit 18-27 free throws. That effort was led by DeSmith, who was 8-9 from the line.
At Glenwood City on Friday, the Panthers used the energy from Tuesday's win to get out to a good start. They led until the final 15 seconds of the first quarter. The Panthers were holding the ball, in an attempt to get the final shot of the quarter. Instead, they turned the ball over and Glenwood City went to score at the buzzer.
Fritsche said that sort of mistake is what the Panthers need to clean up if they are going to be competitive with the next level of teams. Fritsche said the Panther offense created good shots in the first half, but the girls got a bit impatient in the second half and the shot quality regressed.
Refsnider led the Panthers with 12 points on Friday and DiSalvo scored 10 points. Refsnider also led the team with nine rebounds.
After three straight promising offensive games, the Panther offense never founds ways to score on Monday. Mondovi outscored Central 12-0 in the first quarter and it never got any better for the Panthers in a 46-16 loss in Dunn-St. Croix action.
Fritsche said he expected this to be a "one-game blip," anticipating the team to bounce back when they play at Elk Mound on Thursday. The Panthers will also be on the road next Tuesday, at Plum City.
Believe it or not, there were aspects of the game where the Panthers didn't play badly on Monday. They rebounded well, giving up very few second shots. Their defense was up to the challenge of cutting off Mondovi's dribble-drive offense for large portions of the game.
But the offensive problems overshadowed any positives. The Panthers struggled woefully to break Mondovi's press and to deal with the intense pressure of Mondovi's halfcourt defense.
DeSmith led the Panthers with five points and DiSalvo scored four points in the loss.