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Panthers showing a championship hunger

The progress made by players like junior Abby Widiker (13) has made the St. Croix Central girls team much tougher to defend this season. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

When some teams get near a championship, you can see a drive kick in, almost a hunger.

You can see that in the St. Croix Central girls basketball team. The Panthers put together two defensive gems last week, in extending their lead in the Middle Border Conference to two games.

The Panthers start this week with an 8-0 MBC record. Amery and Prescott are both 6-2 in the standings, after Amery soundly defeated Prescott last Thursday.

The two wins last week raise Central's overall record to 13-2. The Panthers played a suffocating defense last Tuesday in a 62-14 non-conference win over Boyceville. The Panthers came back on Thursday with another sturdy defensive effort, defeating Osceola in an MBC clash, 63-36.

The Panthers were fully aware that Osceola was a dangerous team when they played on the Chieftains' court on Thursday, Jan. 18. Central has been honing its full-court pressure and it was outstanding in this game. It allowed the Panthers to take full control of the game in the first half, building a 38-19 lead by halftime.

In past games, the Panther press created turnovers. On Thursday, the press led directly to points.

"Our press really created a lot of problems for Osceola. They had a hard time getting the ball across half-court," said Central coach Luke Fritsche.

One of the areas that makes the Panthers a stronger team is the development of numerous players as scoring threats. Seniors Mia Krogseng and Kalli Cress and junior Claire Frankiewicz are proven scorers. But they are not the only threats. Far from it. At Osceola, Abby Widiker and Kolbi Juen also scored in double figures. Seniors Abby Edelman and McKenna Johnson have also proven themselves as capable scorers.

"It was probably Kolbi's best game," Fritsche said. "We really have a lot of different options who can score."

Fritsche said the one area where the Panthers needed to do better Thursday was defending Osceola leading scorer Katie Haase, who scored half of the Chieftains' 36 points.

"Haase got some second chance points. It would have been nice to shut her down better," Fritsche said.

It was tough for Fritsche to have any qualms with the Panthers' defense in last Tuesday's 62-14 home win over Boyceville.

"The way we played was impressive. We were focused and sharp. We didn't play down to the level of the competition," Fritsche said.

How good was the Panthers' defense? In limiting Boyceville to 14 points, the Bulldogs didn't score a single two-point field goal in the game. All Boyceville's points came via three-pointers and free throws.

Krogseng led the Panthers with 17 points and Cress scored 13 points. Krogseng played well in every aspect of the game, with 14 rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots. Frankiewicz had five assists as she and Krogseng continue to shine with their high-low post passing.

This is a key week for the Panthers in their pursuit of the MBC title. They hosted Prescott on Tuesday and they play at Amery on Friday.

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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