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Somerset girls basketball team earns first Middle Border Conference win

Somerset guard Tori Martell (right) tries to drive to the basket against the defense of New Richmond’s Sydney Kannel during last Tuesday’s game.

The confidence never wavered in the Somerset girls basketball team, despite losing eight straight games since their season opening win over Bloomer.

When Somerset took the court at Ellsworth on Friday, the Spartans knew they were in a position to contend. They played with poise and maintained a lead throughout much of the game to defeat Ellsworth, 61-50, giving Somerset its first Middle Border Conference win of the season.

Ellsworth scored the first five points of the game, but Somerset soon took the lead. At halftime the Spartans’ advantage stood at six points.

“The girls did a very good job of calming down and they played really well,” said Somerset coach Kendrick Livers.

A defensive adjustment by the Spartans at halftime helped them preserve their lead. Ellsworth’s Kelsey Betthauser is one of the finest offensive players in the MBC and she scored 16 points in the first half. After halftime the Spartans packed in their zone defense more tightly around Betthauser, denying her the ball as much as possible. The strategy worked, as Betthauser was held to four points in the second half.

Defending opposing post players is an area where the Spartans have improved this season. Livers said freshman Avery Gunther has developed into the team’s best post defender. Kaitlyn Strumke had four blocked shots in Friday’s game. Getting sophomore Baily Paulus back from an injury also helps in that area.

“Baily’s not afraid to bump and bang with anyone,” Livers said.

While Somerset found a way to hold down Ellsworth’s leading scorer, Ellsworth never found a way to slow down Somerset’s Tori Martell. Martell scored a career-high 31 points in the win.

Martell’s impact wasn’t just in scoring. She finished the game with nine assists as the Spartans used good ball movement to create open shots throughout the game. Sophomore Sam Flandrick scored 11 points, with Abbie Rivard adding five, Haley Bassett four, and McKenzie Erickson and Ally Wittstock each scoring two points.

Having faced top teams in the area like Baldwin-Woodville, Durand and New Richmond, the Spartans have dealt with teams that have excellent presses. Those opponents have the Spartans battle tested, so when Ellsworth tried to press, the Spartans were poised and handled it with little difficulty. The Spartans were able to maintain a double-digit lead throughout the fourth quarter on Friday.

Playing a game after not practicing for three days proved to be a harsh combination for the Spartans last Tuesday. The Spartans hosted New Richmond after school had been cancelled last Monday and Tuesday. The lack of practice time showed, especially in the Spartans’ shooting touch.  The Spartans were held to nine points in the first half and finished on the losing side of a 65-24 outcome.

Martell and Madison Wall led the Spartans with five points each in the loss.

The Spartans now have a week between games. They begin the second half of their conference schedule next Tuesday when they play at Durand.