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St. Croix Central boys basketball won't have long journey to playoff destination

There were concerns that the St. Croix Central boys basketball team would have to make the long trip to Northwestern for the first round of the WIAA Division 3 playoffs next Tuesday.

Instead of the nearly 300-mile round trip to Northwestern, the Panthers will make the five-mile trip to Baldwin-Woodville for the opening round of tournament play.

Central's boys, which began this week with a 2-18 record, received the 12th seed in the WIAA Division 3 regional tournament bracket. Baldwin-Woodville was awarded the fifth seed, giving the Blackhawks the right to host the Panthers. B-W began this week with a 10-9 record. The Blackhawks have been slowed by a recent rash of injuries, but Central coach Zach Turpin said he expects all but one of the Blackhawks to be ready for Tuesday's playoff game.

The Panthers are coming off a busy week where they faced Prescott, Boyceville and Glenwood City. The best performance of the three was on Thursday, when the Panthers nearly won at Boyceville, losing 49-43.

Central led at halftime against Boyceville, 20-19. The Panthers were playing well, competing hard on defense and forcing Boyceville into some turnovers.

"We rebounded as well as we did all year," Turpin said.

Early in the third quarter the Panthers' chances took a hit when freshman post player Doug Cottrell suffered a knee strain. The Panthers kept the game at a 4-6 point range for much of the fourth quarter, but couldn't regain the lead from the Bulldogs.

Jason Matteson led the Panthers with 10 points and Zach Lewis scored six points. Four other Panthers each contributed five points.

The Panthers had to turn right around and play at Glenwood City on Friday, making up a recent postponement. The Panthers couldn't muster the same energy as the night before, losing to the Hilltoppers 58-29.

A big difference between the two nights for the Panthers was turnovers. The Panthers went through Thursday's game with a minimal number of turnovers. Glenwood City's pressure defense caused the Panthers to make mistakes they hadn't the night before.

"Our youth showed up," Turpin said, saying his players tried to dribble through Glenwood City's pressure, often unsuccessfully.

D.J. Holland and Josh Albright each scored eight points to lead the Panthers on Friday. Tony Berg finished with six points.

Last Tuesday the Panthers hosted Prescott, the third place team from the Middle Border Conference. The Panthers kept the game close for three quarters, before Prescott pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 54-29 win.

Central trailed 26-16 at halftime and the margin was 12 points entering the fourth quarter. Prescott hit a half-court three-point shot at the halftime buzzer to make the margin 10 points. Prescott then scored the first five points of the third quarter. Central didn't lose faith, getting the margin down to single figures briefly in the third period.

"For three quarters we did a good job on defense," Turpin said. "We made them work for their points."

Holland led the Panthers with 10 points against Prescott. Brandon Booth was Central's leading rebounder, finishing with six.

The Panthers complete their regular season schedule this Friday, with their Senior Night game against Spring Valley at 7:30 p.m. The boys varsity game will follow the girls varsity game against Alma-Pepin, which starts at 5:30 p.m.