Panther boys hope they reached their turning pointIf the St. Croix Central boys turn their season around in February, Panther coach Mike Fern will point to Saturday’s loss at Ellsworth as the turning point.
By: Dave Newman, New Richmond News
If the St. Croix Central boys turn their season around in February, Panther coach Mike Fern will point to Saturday’s loss at Ellsworth as the turning point.
The 49-40 loss at Ellsworth was the seventh straight loss for Central, which saw its season record drop to 6-10. Still, Fern came out of Saturday’s game quite optimistic that better things are just around the corner for the Panthers.
Central led for much of Saturday’s game against an Ellsworth team that is a contender in the Middle Border Conference. It wasn’t until Ellsworth began putting heavy full-court pressure on Central’s guards that Ellsworth was able to take the lead.
“These guys didn’t quit,” Fern said of his team. “I think they took a step forward. There’s still time to make a run.”
The Panthers will play in a Division 3 regional bracket where no team has shown themselves to be a clear-cut favorite. Fern said he’s confident the Panthers could be a force once the tournament season begins.
One of the reasons for optimism is the post play of Brad Walen and Brian Hauge. Walen has been a workhorse all season. In last week’s games Hauge began making more of an offensive contribution. Walen finished with 15 points and Hauge scored 10 points at Ellsworth. Senior guard Kyle Cress finished with 12 points.
Fern said he’s also encouraged by the play of reserve guard D.J. Haas, who will likely see more playing time. Haas brings some badly needed energy and fire to the Panther bench.
The Panthers nearly snapped their losing streak last Tuesday, losing to Glenwood City 52-45.
The Panthers trailed 28-21 at halftime, but made a major comeback in the third quarter to cut the Toppers’ lead to one point. Walen and Hauge combined for 11 points in the third quarter.
The comeback stopped there. The Panthers’ shot selection in the fourth quarter was poor, passing up several open shots and moments later taking forced, off-balance shots. They also had several possessions where they turned the ball over without getting a shot.
“Our execution down the stretch wasn’t very good,” Fern conceded.
Walen led the Panthers with 13 points on Tuesday and point guard Aaron Johnson finished with 11 points. Hauge and Cress each scored eight points.
Next up for the Panthers is a pair of road games. They will be playing at Elk Mound this Friday. That’s followed by a trip to Plum City next Tuesday.