There may have been rust on the St. Croix Central boys basketball players, but it was a silver rust they would not trade for anything.
When the Central boys finally took the court for their opener Friday, Dec. 8 most of the other Middle Border Conference teams already had two or more games under their belts. That included Friday's opponent, Baldwin-Woodville. The Panthers showed some rust in the first half, but shook it off in the second half to beat B-W 67-59.
Central's boys were busy during the first week of the basketball season, playing in the WIAA Division 4 state football championship game. That's where they picked up the silver glow, taking second place at state in an overtime loss to Lodi. Nine of the 11 who took the court for Central in Friday's basketball game were players on Central's football team.
Central basketball coach Zach Turpin is also an assistant coach on the Panther football team, so he knows quite well the demands of the short turnaround. He gave the players the Thanksgiving week off so they could begin healing from the injuries of football. That gave every team a two-week head start on the Panthers.
"I always tell them we'll have time for basketball," Turpin said on how he handled inquiries from players during the final weeks of football. "It's a challenge, but I wouldn't ask for anything different."
And of course, many of these players went through the same situation last year, when the Panthers were Division 4 state football champions.
Most of the Panthers are still dealing with the injuries, but that didn't stop them on Friday. Twice during the first half the Panthers built up seven-point leads. B-W had its best stretch of the game at the end of the first half, coming back to carry a 34-32 lead into halftime.
The start of the second half saw the Panthers make a charge. They led 40-36 and kept the lead. At times they appeared ready to break the game open, but the inconsistencies of a first game kept that from happening.
Junior Peyton Nogal led the Panther offense on Friday. He showed off his diverse shooting range, finishing with 31 points.
"Peyton shot the ball really well and the guys were feeding him the ball," said Turpin, saying he expects more scoring balance in future games.
Will Soderberg scored 11 points, with Brett Mousel and Collin Nelson both scoring eight points.
The Panthers also shot well from the free throw line, hitting on 16 of 20 chances.
The schedule calls for the Panthers to play back-to-back games this weekend. The Panthers will play a Middle Border Conference game at New Richmond on Friday night. The Panthers head to St. Croix Falls for a non-conference game Saturday night.