Two teams still had hopes of overtaking St. Croix Central for the top spot in the Middle Border Conference girls basketball standings at the start of last week.

By the end of last week, Central had achieved hard-fought victories over both of those teams. With wins over Prescott and Amery, Central's girls are closing in on their first Middle Border Conference championship. A win for the Panthers this Thursday at Somerset would lock up a share of the conference title. The Panthers also play a conference game at home next Tuesday against Baldwin-Woodville.

The Panthers won at home against Prescott last Tuesday, 46-41. On Friday, the Panthers won at Amery, 50-41. The games were similar in that it wasn't until the second half that the Panthers were able to take control.

While offensive success can be dictated by external factors (opposing defenses, pace of game), St. Croix Central coach Luke Fritsche said defense has become the constant the Panthers can rely upon. That showed in both games last week. Fritsche said holding both teams to 18 points in the second half showed that. And as the Panthers build toward games in the WIAA tournament series, he's hoping the defense can be just as tough and reliable.

Much of the game against Prescott was an offensive struggle for Central. The Panthers were 2-18 on their three-point attempts. In the final five minutes, the Panthers went right to the basket. Led by Mia Krogseng and Claire Frankiewicz, the Panthers were able to take the lead in the final minutes.

Krogseng finished the game with 16 points, five assists and six rebounds. Frankiewicz finished with nine points and 14 rebounds.

The Amery game was a showcase of the two top seniors in the conference, in Krogseng and Amery's Madelyn Granica. Amery plays at a deliberate pace and the Panthers showed they could function well at that pace. The game was tied 23-23 at halftime, but Central built a lead early in the second half. The Panthers had few problems on offense. They sank eight three-pointers and went 12-15 from the free throw line to fully establish they are the top team in the conference.

Krogseng and Frankiewicz were limited to a collective 17 points in the game. But the balance in the Panther lineup showed through. Senior guard Kalli Cress sank three three-pointers and went 4-4 at the line to lead the team with 13 points. She also led the team with five assists. Abby Edelman and Abby Widiker both sank a pair of three-pointers in combining for 15 points.