The early showdown for the leadership of the Middle Border Conference went the way of the St. Croix Central girls basketball team on Friday, Dec. 8.
The Panthers and Prescott were the only unbeaten teams in the MBC after the first two rounds of games. Central was the team that remained unblemished, beating Prescott 60-53 on the Cardinals' court on Friday.
Prescott is a vastly changed team since last season. The Cards had a talented post player move in from Hastings. They have three freshmen who became immediate starters, significantly upping the talent level. The one holdover is junior Allie Murphy, who is a skillful guard.
Prescott didn't have anyone who could match up with Central senior Mia Krogseng. Krogseng set a school record by filling the hoop with 33 points, 20 of them coming in the second half. She also hauled down 14 rebounds.
"She was unreal," said Central coach Luke Fritsche. "It's all about her being aggressive."
Fritsche said the Panthers played well in the second half after Prescott held a 29-28 lead at halftime. He said the charge was the result of a number of factors, including good ball movement on offense and a higher commitment to rebounding. Claire Frankiewicz finished with 11 points and Kalli Cress scored 10 points.
Junior Abby Widiker has moved into the starting lineup and has given the team an added dimension with her play.
"She is fearless. She's not afraid to get into the middle of things," Fritsche said.
The Panthers have been known as a zone defensive team for years. But with the athletic ability on the team, they can now play a man-up defense, and that was one of the main differences in shutting down Prescott's offense in the second half.
"I think we have three top-flight defenses we can go to," Fritsche said of adding the man defense to the team's 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones.
Last Monday, the Panthers scored a 58-28 win over Osceola. This showed the resilience of a veteran team. The Panthers had played games the previous Thursday and Friday, so the coaches gave them the weekend off. They didn't have a practice before the Osceola game, but still produced a convincing win.
"The girls were very sharp," Fritsche said.
The Panthers led 27-20 at halftime, before putting together an awe-inspiring second half where they outscored the Chieftains 31-8.
Krogseng led the Panthers with 22 points. Cress missed the game due to illness, with McKenna Johnson stepping into her role and giving a strong effort.
Osceola tried full-court pressure to stop the Panthers. It caused a few problems, but Krogseng eventually tore it up.
"She went right through it. She either passed through it or dribbled around it," Fritsche said.
The Panthers face another key conference game this Friday when they host Amery. The Panthers will also be home next Tuesday in a non-conference game against Barron.