The value of defense was made clear to the St. Croix Central girls basketball team in a non-conference loss against Durand last Monday.
The lesson took hold, because the Panthers came back with a defensive gem last Friday, Dec. 15 against Amery. A loss would have dropped the Panthers into a tie for the Middle Border Conference lead. Instead, the Panthers limited Amery to eight points in the first half, maintaining a comfortable margin in a 51-37 victory. With the win, the Panthers end the 2017 portion of the conference schedule alone at the top of the MBC rankings with a 4-0 record. The Panthers take an extensive holiday break. They don't play again until Thursday, Jan. 4, when they host Somerset.
Amery presents a challenge for every opponent with its quality tall players, led by Madelyn Granica and Abby Schmidt.
"Granica is not only one of the best girls in the area, she's one of the best in the state," said Central coach Luke Fritsche.
The Panthers limited Granica to 19 points, which is well below her season average. And they were able keep Schmidt under wraps, holding her to two points. Fritsche said junior Claire Frankiewicz was the key to Central's strong defensive post play.
"Claire was outstanding in the middle. She was the catalyst. She was tough and she stood her ground," Fritsche said.
Limiting Amery to 37 points was something of an accomplishment, considering the Warriors had scored 81 points in their previous game against Ellsworth.
By halftime, Central had built a 23-8 lead. With the trio of Mia Krogseng, Kalli Cress and Frankiewicz, the Panthers had a three-girl offensive attack that Amery couldn't corral. Krogseng finished the game with 20 points, Cress scored 14 and Frankiewicz 11. They led the Panthers in all areas. Krogseng produced 11 rebounds and Frankiewicz grabbed 10. Cress and Abby Widiker both produced five steals and Krogseng had four as the assertive Panther defense stole the ball 17 times. Frankiewicz led the team with three assists.
The Panthers were much better in taking care of the ball, with just 10 turnovers in the game.
While Krogseng, Cress and Frankiewicz do a major part of the scoring, the other girls are playing important roles. Fritsche said one of the girls who has stepped up in recent games is senior McKenna Johnson.
"She provides real steady senior leadership and she's a tireless worker," Fritsche said.
Central's girls had played a lethal non-conference schedule. Last Monday pitted them against undefeated Durand, the third-ranked team in Division 4 in the state. Durand took charge from the start, leading 32-19 at halftime. That extended to a 58-41 Durand victory.
"I didn't feel our defensive energy was enough to win the game," Fritsche said, a lesson the Central squad used all week as motivation to prepare for Amery.
"After both of our losses (Central opened the season with a loss at Colfax) our girls have had a very constructive mindset," Fritsche said.
Krogseng led the Panthers with 14 points against Durand. Frankiewicz pulled down 11 rebounds in the loss.