St. Croix Central boys basketball edged in regional final
The WIAA playoffs brought out the best in the St. Croix Central boys basketball team.
On Friday, the Panthers opened the Division 3 playoffs with a hard-fought 62-49 win over Osceola. That put the Panthers in the regional title game Saturday against top-seeded Prescott. The Panthers were undaunted in playing the Middle Border Conference champion. The game went down to the final shot, with Prescott holding off the Panthers, 59-56.
The loss Saturday ends Central's season. The Panthers finish the 2017-18 with a 16-8 record.
This was Prescott's fifth straight regional championship. Central might have gone into the game as underdogs, but the Panthers didn't think so. They went toe-to-toe with the Cards. And by halftime, Central was leading 29-28.
"Going in, the kids had the right attitude," said Central coach Zach Turpin. "Our kids played great on defense. We knew we couldn't let them get the dribble drive."
Prescott made a run early in the second half to build a 40-34 lead. The lead stayed in the 5-7 point range until the final seconds. Central got the ball with 21 seconds left, trailing 59-56. The Panthers had a play designed for the final seconds, but Prescott defended it well. Panther senior Brett Mousel took a three-pointer with three seconds left, but the shot was off the mark.
Central was able to stick with Prescott because the Panthers forced the game to be played at their pace. Prescott excels in the transition game, but Central was patient and careful on offense, waiting for a good shot on each possession.
"Our kids didn't waver from the game plan. The kids just played with a ton of effort," Turpin said.
Only five Panthers scored in the game. Will Soderberg led the team with 14 points. Zac Jourdeans scored 12, Peyton Nogal 11, Collin Nelson 10 and Mousel nine points.
Prescott was led by Petey Brookshaw, who scored 30 points. That is his scoring average this season.
"He's a special player. He hit shots only an all-state player could hit," Turpin said.
The Panthers didn't exactly have an easy time with Osceola in Central's home finale on Friday. The Panthers had trouble for much of the night stopping Osceola's post attack, which consists of the Braml twins, Erik and Kyle. The Bramls combined for 29 points and got Central into major foul trouble in the first half.
Central's depth was its saving grace. Nick Weber and Jourdeans came in and gave the Panthers the height and positioning that took away some of the entry pass options to the Braml brothers.
The outside shooting from Austin Kopacz was the only thing that kept the Panthers afloat in the first half. He had 15 of the Panthers' 26 points in the first half, with all of them coming off three-pointers. He added a critical four-point play early in the second half when he was fouled while hitting a three-pointer. His shot and free throw turned a 31-27 Osceola lead into a 31-31 tie.
"He was on fire," Turpin said of Kopacz.
Kopacz led the Panthers with 21 points. Jourdeans finished with 15 points and Soderberg scored 11 points.
Central led 43-42 with eight minutes remaining. In the next seven minutes, the Panthers outscored the Chieftains 17-4. Strong free throw shooting by Soderberg in the final minutes put this game away. In the final 2:12 of the game, he went 9-10 from the line.