St. Croix Central girls rally when their leader hits the deck
When Nikki Brooks went down, it was time for the rest of the St. Croix Central girls to step up.
That's what happened in the final regular season game for the Panthers last Thursday. Brooks, the senior captain and leading scorer, struck her head on the floor and didn't get up. The rest of the Panthers came through, as the Panthers defeated Elmwood 45-41.
Central ends the regular season with a 12-10 record. They were scheduled to open WIAA Division 3 regional tournament action on Tuesday with a game at St. Croix Falls. The winner of Tuesday's game will be in action again this Friday, playing at top-seeded Amery in the regional semifinal. The winner of Friday's game will play again on Saturday in the regional championship game. That game will be played in River Falls at 7 p.m.
Brooks' injury in Thursday's game was a shocker for the Panthers. Brooks throws her body around the court with great fearlessness. But this time was different, when her head struck the floor early in the second quarter.
"For the first time since I've been coaching her, she didn't get up," said Central coach Luke Fritsche.
Fritsche said, on the day following the game, Brooks was showing no post-concussion indications. He said if there were no setbacks, she should be on the court for this week's games.
The Panther coaches and players knew they were facing a major challenge with Brooks out of the lineup.
"It told the girls 'if we can win this without Nikki, that will say more than any game we've played all season,'" Fritsche said.
Sophomore Laura DeSmith moved into Brooks' point guard role and the Panthers soldiered on. The Panthers trailed by four points in the fourth quarter, but a pair of three-pointers from senior Jordan Risberg got them the lead. DeSmith finished with a flurry, which included making a number of free throws in the final minutes. She finished with 15 points, including making 11-13 free throws.
Emily West and Taylor Refsnider also hit key free throws in the fourth quarter. West also led the Panthers with six rebounds.