The Somerset and St. Croix Central boys have moved to the upper echelon in the first half of the Middle Border Conference basketball season. When the Spartans and Panthers met on Tuesday night in Somerset, it was a high intensity game, which Somerset managed to win, 71-62.

The game was still in doubt in the final minutes. Central used full-court pressure to make a late comeback, cutting Somerset’s lead to 62-60. Somerset had its best night of the season from the free throw line and the Spartans sank 8-9 free throws in the 1:36 to salt the game away.

The main challenge in the game was whether Central could slow down Somerset’s diverse offense. Somerset was able to find a shot in liked shortly into most possessions, while the Panthers were more diligent in trying to create a shot.

“I feel we’re a 60 to 70 point a game team,” said Central coach Randy Jordan. “We’ve got to keep teams under 60.”

Somerset led 34-27 at halftime and stretched the lead as large as 12 points at 48-36. Central was able to score in bursts, often off turnovers from its full court pressure. From 48-36, the Panthers cut the margin back to 50-45. Somerset re-expanded the lead to 60-51, but Central’s press in the late minutes cut the margin to 62-60 on a 3-pointer from Jackson Pettit with 1:41 remaining.

Somerset was led by Jack Cook and Ty Madden, who both scored 21 points. Cook was incredibly efficient on offense, making 7-8 shots from the field and having the same success from the free throw line. He also led the Spartans with six rebounds. Cook and Madden were most effective making slashing drives to the basket. Central changed to a zone defense in attempts to take away those drives.

Somerset also had depth in its attack, with Melvin Ortiz scoring 11 points and Trae Kreibich scoring 10.

Somerset coach Troy Wink said the growth of the team showed when Central cut the Spartans’ lead to two points. The Spartans maintained their poise with the ball and waited for Central to commit fouls. And the Spartans were deadly from the line, making 18-20 free throws.

Central’s offense wasn’t getting the ball into the paint often, resulting in Central shooting five free throws in the game. Jordan said the Panthers’ plan was to get the ball inside early in most possessions. But when Kelson Klin and Carson Hinzman both picked up their fourth fouls early in the second half, it forced the Panthers to alter their plans.

Pettit led the Panthers with 17 points. Gabe Siler contributed 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds. Colin Hackbarth finished with 11 points. Jordan said the team needs more players to be consistent scoring threats for the team to reach the level of success it wants.

Somerset’s next game arrives next Tuesday at Osceola. Central will host Barron next Monday.