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St. Croix Central girls balance books, basketball in finals week

St. Croix Central senior guard McKenzy Johnson (11) drives to the basket in a recent Panther game against Mondovi.

This is finals week at St. Croix Central.

With long road trips the first two days of the week, the Panther girls basketball team was doing its best to balance basketball and books.

In the first of the road trips, to Elk Mound on Monday, the Panthers put up a strong effort. The effort fell just short, losing to the Mounders 43-37.

The students had Monday off from school for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Panther coach Luke Fritsche said his girls spent the day off studying for finals. Most of them brought textbooks on the bus for the road trip and that was also the plan for Tuesday, when they were scheduled to make the trip south to Pepin.

The Panthers led for most of the first half at Elk Mound. They led by six until the final minutes of the second quarter, when they had their one rough stretch of the game. By halftime the Mounders had taken the lead.

The game remained close throughout the second half. The Panthers trailed by two points heading into the fourth quarter and they were able to tie the score once.

“Our defense was 100 times better than the last couple games,” Fritsche said.

Sophomore Emma Landry led the Panthers with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Senior McKenzy Johnson scored eight points, including hitting two clutch three-pointers. Senior Kayla Pabst drew praise from Fritsche for her eight-point, nine-rebound effort.

“I thought it was her best game. She played a good game at both ends of the court,” Fritsche said, after Pabst held Elk Mound post player McKenna McVey to two points.

This game represented an upturn for the Panthers after they lost a game they had hopes of winning. The Panthers lost at Plum City 59-47 last Friday.

The Panthers and Plum City were in similar positions heading into last Friday’s game. Both had played well against most teams in the upper half of the Dunn-St. Croix Conference standings. Both teams were hoping this would be the game that propelled them up the D-SC standings.

Central’s girls started well, building leads of 8-0 and 13-3. By halftime Plum City had tied the game and the Blue Devils held the lead for most of the second half.

With Pabst in foul trouble and reserve post player Abby Olsen out with an injury, the Panthers weren’t able to prevent Plum City from getting a number of scores off offensive rebounds.

Numerous fouls were called in this game and free throw shooting became one of the deciding factors. Central had a rough night from the line, making 10-24 attempts. Plum City was much more accurate, making 21-28 attempts.

Fritsche said the Panthers had trouble slowing down Plum City’s transition game.

“Every turnover we had was a layup for them,” he said.

Plum City has the conference’s leading scorer in Cheyanne Caturia. Though the Panthers defended her well in some stretches, she was still able to score 19 points.

“She just doesn’t miss if you give her an open look,” Fritsche said.

The Panthers also had a strong offensive night. Lauren Moll led the team with 14 points, including going 3-5 from behind the three-point arc. Landry contributed 13 points and seven rebounds and Pabst produced eight points and eight rebounds.

The Panthers return to their home court this Thursday with a non-conference game against Prescott. This game has been postponed and has been rescheduled for Feb. 10.  The Panthers will also be at home next Tuesday, facing unbeaten Colfax.

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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