After starting out with a 16-3 lead, the St. Croix Central boys found out quickly that they were going to get a battle to the finish from Durand in Monday’s non-conference basketball game.
It went to the finish and beyond, as Central needed overtime to defeat Durand, 66-60, in the game played at Hammond.
Durand is a co-leader in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference with a 12-5 record, so the Central players and coaches knew they’d be in for a battle. Central is also 12-5 after the win.
A defensive change ended up being Central’s saving grace. After Central built its early lead, Durand quickly turned the game around. Durand has tall, agile players and they were effectively driving into the paint. Durand was so effective that it went on a 16-0 run late in the first half to build a 30-29 lead. Central got the lead back on a 3-pointer by Colin Hackbarth with 67 seconds left in the half.
Moments later, Hackbarth would be involved in a scary situation. A Durand player grabbed a rebound, and as he swung his arms, his elbow struck Hackbarth in the forehead. The blow knocked out Hackbarth. Fortunately, a referee was standing right behind Hackbarth and caught him as he slumped to the floor. Central coach Randy Jordan said Hackbarth appeared fine after the game, but he would be watched closely for any concussion symptoms.
At halftime, the Central coaches decided to use a zone defense. It effectively took away Durand’s drives into the lane, and the game remained a scrappy battle. Central built leads of 44-38 and 55-47, but each time, Durand clawed back.
The overtime started with Central senior Trevor Kopacz hitting a pair of free throws. Jackson Pettit, who had to leave the game for part of the first half with a knee injury, then hit two 3-pointers. Three free throws from Gabe Siler sealed the win for Central.
Siler led the Panthers with 20 points and he did an excellent job of dealing with the intense defense that Durand threw at Central all night.
“Gabe is one of the most focused kids I’ve ever coached,” Jordan said.
Pettit bounced back from the knee injury to finish with 14 points.
With the injuries and foul trouble, the Panthers had to rely on their bench from the first minute of the game. Sophomore Carson Hinzman has become like a sixth starter because of his extended game time. Spencer Trainor seemed to play nearly the entire game because of the injuries and Conner Nielsen saw some of his most important minutes of the season.
Jordan said the progress of the reserves has given the coaches much more flexibility in the lineups they can use to match up best against opponents’ strengths.
Central will be back in action Thursday, resuming the Middle Border Conference schedule with a game at Osceola.