SOMERSET, Wis. -- The good news after the Somerset girls’ basketball team’s season opener against Elsworth last Tuesday? They scored 75 points. The bad news? They gave up 79.
After leading early, the Spartans fell behind by eight at the break and trailed by as many as 14 in the second half before making it a one-point game with just over three minutes remaining. But they couldn’t get over the hump and Ellsworth answered with a big 3-pointer and hit 4-of-5 free throws in the final 30 seconds to hold on for the win.
“It's nice to put up over 70,” Somerset coach Cory Lindenberg said. “But it's also not nice to give up over 75.”
Lindenberg said the strength of the Spartans’ game this season will be its post play, and that was evident against Ellsworth as Dani Schachtner had a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds while also blocking seven shots. Heather Gaikowski contributed 15 points and eight boards as the Spartans outrebounded the Panthers 40-20.
Schachtner and Gaikowski provided much of the spark early as Somerset jumped out to an eight-point lead but Ellsworth hit four 3-pointers in the last two minutes of the first half to open up a 39-31 lead at the break. Three more Panther 3-pointers in the first four 3 minutes, 30 seconds of the second half extended Ellsworth’s lead to 53-39.
Lindenberg said the Panthers hit some shots the Spartans didn’t expect them to make.
“I think they had two, three banked in 3-pointers in a span of a couple of minutes and that and just like that you’re down by 10,” he said. “That sort of thing is killer and your margin of error is just razor thin.”
The Spartans chipped away and pulled within single digits, 58-49, on a 3-pointer by Taylor Paulson at the 10 minute mark and got to within three, 59-56, on a steal and layup by Gaikowski with 7:30 left, but the Panthers scored 11 of the next 17 points to make it a nine-point game, 70-61 with under five minutes remaining.
Somerset came right back with a run of its own, beginning with another Paulson 3-pointer. Gaikowski drained a pair of free throws with 3:44 left to trim the lead to four, 70-66, before Paulson’s fifth 3-pointer of the game cut it to one, 70-69, with 3:15 remaining.
But that’s as close as the Spartans could get as Ellsworth got a bucket and 3-pointer to go up by six with 2:30 left. MyKenzie Leccia hit two free throws with 15 seconds remaining to make it a 78-75 game, but after a made Ellsworth free throw the Panthers ran out of time with no timeouts.
Lindenberg said the Panthers did a nice job of battling back from a double-digit deficit.
“There was no quit in them,” he said. “You come out at halftime down by eight and you give up a couple of buckets and now you’re down by like 12 or 14. That would have been an easy moment to let it get away but they stuck with it. And they grinded it out and gave themselves a chance. They just didn't pull it off.”
Paulson finished with 18 points and Leccia had a double-double of her own with 10 points and 10 assists in addition to making six steals.
Somerset scored 10 more points in the paint than Ellsworth (40-30), but the Panthers shot 60 percent from 3-point range (12-of-20) while the Spartans were 7-of-19. Ellsworth also had 27 points off turnovers while Somerset scored 17.
Lindenberg said with Schachtner, Gaikowski, Emilee Richard, along with Shealyn Struemke when she returns, the Spartans will have four post players they feel really good about.
“That's going to present some tough matchups for other teams,” he said. “As long as we can limit our turnovers we can exploit that. And we also feel good about our playmaking out of our guards, MyKenzie Leccia had a great game finding a bunch of passes and dropping passes into the paint. And Taylor Paulson can make 3-pointers and with Rachel (Gaikowski) we feel like we have a lot of pieces that can work well together.”
The Spartans will hit the road for their next three games -- Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Altoona, Friday, Dec. 4, at Prescott and Tuesday, Dec. 8 at Elk Mound, before returning home to host Osceola Friday, Dec. 11.