The St. Croix Central girls made a vast improvement from their first basketball game to their second, but it still wasn’t enough to defeat New Richmond in the Tigers’ season opener last Tuesday.

New Richmond pounced on the Panthers, building a 17-3 lead in the first six minutes of the game. Once the Panthers got their bearings, the rest of the game was played quite competitively, with New Richmond winning 59-41. This was the Middle Border Conference opener for both teams.

The fast start of the Tigers Tuesday was largely the result of two scoring sources, one fully expected and one surprise. Senior Jessica Hagman returns with a track record as one of the most accurate shooters in the MBC. She scored 10 of the Tigers’ first half points as they carried a 29-18 lead into the break.

The second scoring source was freshman Gabrielle Aune. She scored six of the Tigers’ first 19 points, helping them build the double digit lead.

Hagman would go on to finish with 23 points, the only Tiger to score in double figures. Leah DeYoung finished with eight, Aune seven and fellow freshman Brooke Blaszczyk with six.

In the first stage of the game, it looked like the Tigers might win comfortably. The Panthers wouldn’t let that happen. In fact, it got very uncomfortable. The Panthers went on an 8-0 run early in the second half, cutting the margin to 33-27.

With most of the Tigers seeming hesitant to shoot, Hagman stepped up. She scored seven of the Tigers’ next eight points to get the lead back into a more comfortable range for the Tigers.

New Richmond coach Chad Eggert said he was extremely pleased with the intensity the Tigers showed in building up the lead at the start of the game. While the Tigers relied heavily on Hagman’s scoring in this game, Eggert was confident in the offense’s possibilities.

“There’s all kinds of girls who can score. We’ve got girls who want to score. If we can keep that up, we’ll be all right.”

The Tigers will be back in action on Friday, playing at Somerset.

The loss was bitter for the Panthers. Coach Ty Ketz said he saw the progress, particularly at the offensive end of the court.

“All the adversity at the start...the girls came back. The challenge is to sustain that level of play,” he said. “The girls have high hopes and they want to see results.”

When the Panthers cut the score to 33-27, it was the result of a pair of hoops by junior Emma Osegard. She is on the varsity for the first time. After looking extremely nervous in the opener, she showed an excellent range of offensive skills in leading the Panthers with 12 points. Senior guards Morgan Siler and Kolbi Juen both finished with 10 points.

The Panthers play their fourth straight home game to start the season on Friday when they host Osceola.