The Ellsworth girls’ basketball team (7-11, 5-7 Middle Border Conference) battled and battled and battled some more Tuesday night at home against the Osceola Chieftains (7-12, 3-8 MBC). In the end it was not enough as the Panthers fell 65-61 in overtime.

It has been an up-and-down year for the Panthers, who won four games in a week’s span from Jan. 21-28, but have now lost four in a row since then. However, this was their closest game by far over the losing-streak. Ellsworth came from behind down by double-digits in the first half, then erased another seven-point deficit in the final minutes. In overtime though, the Panthers struggled to score and could not close the gap despite Osceola only making 3 of 8 free throws.

Speaking last week before their loss to New Richmond, senior Kaitlyn Nugent said she liked how her team was playing despite the recent results.

“Right now we’re playing good basketball. We’re definitely where we want to be at this point in the season,” she said. “We’ve improved on the things we needed to from the beginning of the year and right now we’re just focusing on fine tuning the little things. We’ve been working hard on some more individual drills as well so when we play together we can play to our full potential.”

Ellsworth senior Kaitlyn Nugent initiates the Panthers' offense during the first half of their 65-61 overtime loss Tuesday. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia
Ellsworth senior Kaitlyn Nugent initiates the Panthers' offense during the first half of their 65-61 overtime loss Tuesday. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia

It would be hard to imagine a worse start to a game than what Ellsworth experienced against the Chieftains. Osceola could not miss the first eight minutes of the game or so and the Panthers were ice cold. Osceola opened the game on a 10-0 run in the first three plus minutes and extended that lead to 24-6 with 9 minutes, 40 seconds left before halftime.

After that, the Ellsworth defense clamped down and started forcing the turnovers they usually rely on to generate easy offense. The Panthers slowly chipped away at the Osceola lead, primarily through their transition game with junior Autumn Earney leaking out on turnovers and defensive rebounds, which she converted into easy layups. Earney had 19 first-half points, most of which came on those outlet passes. The score was 31-26 Osceola at halftime.

Ellsworth switched up their defense to start the second half, going from their 2-3 zone to a 1-3-1 zone with Earney up top. The 1-3-1 takes advantage of Earney’s length and athleticism even more than the 2-3 and she and the Panther defense continued to force Osceola turnovers. Switching defensive schemes seemed to help the Panthers' rebounders after collectively struggling in the first half.

Ellsworth took the lead on an Earney jumper and a little while later retook the lead on a forced turnover by Earney which resulted in a Nugent 3-pointer. On the next play, Earney forced another turnover and converted the transition layup. Ellsworth led 40-36 after Earney’s layup. Both teams went cold for a little while thereafter, but eventually the Chieftains responded with a run and led 47-42 with 7 minutes left.

The two teams went back and forth from there. It was tied at 52 with 2:39 left and then Osceola led 55-54 with 55 seconds remaining. At that point, Earney drove, drew a foul and sunk both free throws to give Ellsworth a 56-55 lead with 22 seconds left. Osceola then broke the Panthers’ press and drew a foul of their own, hitting 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game at 56 each, which is how regulation ended.

Despite some questionable calls in the overtime period, Ellsworth struggled to score despite having several chances. Osceola was able to convert on offense just enough to come out with the win.

Earney led all scorers with 36 points, including two 3-pointers and 4 of 5 from the free-throw line. Nugent had nine points including two big 3-pointers in the second half, while junior Lily Puhrmann had six points. For Osceola, senior Emily Fox and freshman Hattie Fox each had 19 points. Emily had four 3-pointers, while Hattie made three. Sophomore Mallory Johnson added 17 points.

The Panthers travel to Turtle Lake (4-14, 0-9 Lakeland Conference) on Thursday and Prescott (16-3, 11-0 MBC) on Friday to take on the MBC-leading Cardinals.