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St. Croix Central boys basketball competitive in pair of close losses

Central senior guard Danny Sukowatey makes a strong move to the basket in the Panthers' loss to Boyceville last week.

The St. Croix Central boys basketball team has elevated its play to where it is competitive in most games.

Now, as the season wanes, the Panthers are hoping to take one more step in their basketball genesis.

Last week the Panthers were able to play on even footing for much of their games against Boyceville and Elmwood. In the Panthers' 45-30 loss to Boyceville,

Central led for a large part of the first half. That included most of the second quarter, when neither team was able to score for several minutes.

"We had an opportunity to hit a few shots and start pulling away," said Central coach Zach Turpin.

For much of the first half the Panthers' defense was the overriding factor in the game. The score held at 12-10 for several minutes. Boyceville made a charge in the final minutes of the half to take a 19-14 lead. Particularly costly to the Panthers was their play in the final seconds of the half. Turpin had called for the Panthers to take the final shot of the half. The Panthers panicked, throwing up a shot with eight seconds left, and the shot was off target.

Boyceville's Ryan Bloom rushed the ball upcourt and no Panther came out to defend him, so he knocked down an uncontested three-pointer that elevated the Bulldogs' lead at halftime to five points.

Most of Boyceville's points in the second half came from the free throw line. The two teams finished with the same number of field goals, 11. But while Central went 6-11 from the free throw line, Boyceville made 20-27 charity shots.

Many of Boyceville's free throws came as a result of the Bulldogs outrebounding Central. The Panthers were usually outnumbered under the boards. Where Central had one or two players fighting for rebounds on most occasions, Boyceville had several. That resulted in Boyceville holding a 35-24 rebounding advantage.

Central was led in Tuesday's game by senior guard Danny Sukowatey. Turpin said the team has been more competitive since Sukowatey has taken over as the primary ball handler. Turpin said Sukowatey is more of a natural shooting guard, but at this point his ball handling skills give the Panthers their best chance to be competitive in each game.

Sukowatey led the Panthers with nine points against Boyceville. He and D.J. Haas shared the team lead in rebounds with five.

On Friday the Panthers matched their season high in scoring, but it wasn't quite enough to stay with Elmwood. The Panthers lost at Elmwood 66-50. This game was played at a very rapid pace. While the Panthers were able to run up a healthy point total, Turpin said there were "too many turnovers and unforced errors" to stay even with Elmwood.

Free throws were again the main difference. Central was 5-9 from the line, while Elmwood made 17-23 free throws. Turpin said the Panthers need to take the ball to the basket more often to draw more free throws.

Mike Nelson led the Panthers with 12 points at Elmwood. Haas and Ethan Lindahl each scored eight points. Nelson's six rebounds were tops on the team.

The Panthers finish the regular season this Thursday with a game at Spring Valley, the team that is directly in front of them in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference standings.

The WIAA playoffs begin next Tuesday and the Panthers will start Division 3 tournament play on the road. The Panthers received the 11th seed in the sectional tournament bracket. That means they will start tournament play on Tuesday with a game at Unity, the sixth seed. The winner of Tuesday's game will be in action again on Friday, March 2, at Barron.

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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