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Tiger girls take different routes to wild basketball finishes

Tiger center Amy Kukacka (42) works the ball around the perimeter against River Falls.

Both of the New Richmond girls basketball games ended in nail-biting finishes last week, but they took vastly different paths to that finish.

Last Tuesday the Tigers and River Falls locked into a closely fought defensive game. River Falls managed to pull out a 30-28 win over the Tigers.

On Friday at Ellsworth the Tigers were buried for three quarters, trailing by as many as 24 points. Late in the game the Tigers made a scrambling, passionate comeback and had chances to tie the game in the final minute. The Tigers were then forced to foul and Ellsworth slipped away with a 57-51 win.

The Tigers are now 2-2 in Middle Border Conference games, one game behind the MBC leaders. Overall, the Tigers started the week with a 3-7 record.

The start to Friday's loss at Ellsworth was the extreme opposite of what has been working for the Tigers this season. The Tigers have been outhustling their opponents, but that didn't happen at the start of the Ellsworth game. The Tigers were beaten up the court on a regular basis by the Panthers. That resulted in a number of easy shots that the Panthers used to build a 13-point lead in the first quarter. Ellsworth held a 36-22 halftime lead.

That lead grew in the third quarter until the Tigers started to follow some of the changes charted by the coaches at halftime. Quickly, that lead began to melt.

Tiger coach Jeff Kanewischer said it was as simple as taking away Ellsworth's transition scoring. Led by junior center Amy Kukacka, who scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half, the Tigers surged back.

"The girls never gave up when we were down," Kanewischer said. "When we see them again I think there'll be a different outcome."

Kat Keller scored nine points for the Tigers and Sydney Kannel scored eight points.

Kanewischer said this game served as a reminder to the girls that they have to bring their maximum energy level to every game.

The loss to River Falls featured two teams that were playing tough, physical defense and it resulted in lower point production for both teams.

The Tigers were able to generate shots from good positions on the court in the first half, but they couldn't get many of those shots to fall. The Tigers trailed 16-11 at halftime.

Throughout the second half the Tigers clung closely to the Wildcats. In the final minute the Tigers had chances to take the lead on two possessions. They couldn't score on either.

Keller and Laura Troftgruben led the TIgers with seven points each at River Falls.

The games for the Tigers over the first half of the season were spaced out rather generously. That changes now. The Tigers play two games a week every week during the rest of the regular season. The Tigers will be in action at home on Thursday, facing Osceola. The Tigers hit the road next Tuesday for a game at Durand.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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