The 91 points the Somerset girls basketball team scored in its previous Middle Border Conference game alerted the St. Croix Central girls of the Spartans' growing shooting prowess.
The Panthers came ready to shut down the Spartans' shooters and they did exactly that. Central turned into the team with red-hot shooting, defeating the Spartans 59-36 in Somerset. The game locked up a share of the MBC championship for Central.
In the game against Prescott, all five Spartan starters scored in double figures. Against Central, none of them were able to reach double digits. Junior guard Georgia Hammer led the Spartans with nine points. Freshmen Rachel Gaikowski and Dani Schachtner both scored eight points.
This game could not have started any more wrongly for the Spartans. Senior point guard Anna Rybacki was called for two fouls in the first 31 seconds. And Central opened the game with sizzling accuracy. Within four minutes, the Panthers already had a double-digit lead. At its worst, Central was up 33-8 late in the first half, before the Spartans went on a 10-0 run to settle down the game.
Somerset coach Cory Lindenberg said Central played outstanding defense, but said some of the Spartans' offensive problems were self-inflicted. He said the Spartans didn't handle pressure well and that the girls were not getting into the proper alignment to execute the game plan for the night.
The Spartans were also in action last Monday, playing a non-conference game at Grantsburg. This game was close for a half, but Somerset pulled away in the second half to win 69-54.
Somerset was not expecting to have this difficult time with the Pirates.
"Grantsburg couldn't miss," Lindenberg said. "Anything they threw up found the net. It was incredibly frustrating."
That was the case in the first half, but Somerset's defense eventually cooled off the Pirates.
Grantsburg couldn't cool down Schachtner all night. The freshman post scored a career-high 19 points, coupling that with a 15-rebound performance. She has quietly become one of the better posts in the conference, averaging 9.9 rebounds per game.
Hammer scored 17 for the Spartans at Grantsburg, with Tori Gareis ending with 11 points.
The Spartans have two regular season games remaining. They will play at Baldwin-Woodville on Friday, before finishing the regular season at home against Ellsworth on Thursday, Feb. 15.
This weekend is when the WIAA girls basketball tournament brackets will be decided. The Spartans are part of a 12-team sectional bracket in Division 3 this season. The opening round of tournament play is set for Tuesday, Feb. 20.