RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- St. Croix Central entered its New Year’s Eve matinee at River Falls ranked No. 7 in the state in Division 3 while the Wildcats were the third-ranked team in Division 2.

And for a while it looked like the Panthers would get the best of the Wildcats as they jumped out to a 13-4 lead. But it was all River Falls after that as the Cats stormed back to take a 39-21 halftime lead on their way to a 62-44 victory.

It was the second of three wins over the holiday break for the Wildcats, coming two days after an 84-52 victory over New Richmond and two days before beating Ellsworth 77-47. The three wins come after the Cats’ only loss of the season Dec. 22 at Eau Claire Memorial.

“A good week of basketball for our team as we continue to build our identity,” head coach Zac Campbell said. “This week was really good for us as a team to get carry out from practice situations to game situations. One of the many challenges to this season is not having a summer/fall to work team flow.”

Thursday’s loss was the first of the season for St. Croix Central, who were averaging nearly 85 points through their first six games. And they looked like they’d keep up that pace as they scored the first six points on their way to opening up a 13-4 lead five minutes in.

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But the Panthers couldn’t buy a bucket over the next seven minutes while River Falls went on a 16-0 run. Zac Johnson hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 7:30 left in the half and Liam Dougherty scored on a put-back to give the Cats a 20-13 lead before Kelson Klin broke the Panthers’ scoring drought with a layup with 5:40 remaining.

St. Croix Central senior Kelson Klin (25) avoids the block attempt of River Falls’ Zac Johnson (23) in the second half of the Panthers’ 62-44 loss to the Wildcats Thursday, Dec. 31 in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
St. Croix Central senior Kelson Klin (25) avoids the block attempt of River Falls’ Zac Johnson (23) in the second half of the Panthers’ 62-44 loss to the Wildcats Thursday, Dec. 31 in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

River Falls used a 10-2 run over the last four minutes of the half, starting and ending with 3-pointers by Chris Chapin, to widen the gap to 39-21 at the break.

“After a slow start, the boys made a great run that was fueled by great movement and energy heading into half,” Campbell said. “While I was pleased with how hard we played and the purpose we had, we have a lot to work on the offensive end.

St. Croix Central opened the second half with a 3-pointer by Jackson Pettit and a 3-pointer and free throw by Gabe Siler cut the Wildcat lead to 11, 53-42, with 5:32 remaining but that’s as close as the Panthers could get.

“St. Croix Central is one of the most athletic teams that I have seen on film so far this year,” Campbell noted. “It was important for us to attack their pressure and limit the space they have offensively as they are very explosive.”

Johnson scored 20 of his game-high 29 points to lead the Wildcats while also contributing three assists, three blocked shots and three steals while Chapin finished with 12 points and a pair of steals. JT Dougherty chipped in nine points and Victor Bye had six while Michael Schurman added four points, six rebounds and three assists and Liam Dougherty pulled down 12 boards and blocked two shots.

Carson Hinzman registered a double-double for Central with 18 points and 13 rebounds and Pettit scored eight points while Siler had seven points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals and Klin had seven points and eight boards.

Campbell said it was important for the Wildcats to keep their foot on the gas.

“St. Croix Central has a 'spurtability' about them that can run away with games,” he said. “It was important for us to combat a negative possession or two with a quality possession and not let them put runs together like they had in every other game this year.”

Two days earlier against New Richmond, the Wildcats jumped out to a 41-22 halftime lead and outrebounded the Tigers 47-26 on their way to an 84-52 victory.

New Richmond senior Ben Wacker (25) puts up a shot in the lane in the second half of the Tigers’ 84-52 loss to River Falls Thursday, Dec. 31 in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
New Richmond senior Ben Wacker (25) puts up a shot in the lane in the second half of the Tigers’ 84-52 loss to River Falls Thursday, Dec. 31 in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

Johnson led the Cats with 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists and Liam Dougherty had 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots while JT Dougherty contributed nine points and six boards. Chapin and Ethan Campbell contributed seven points each in the win.

New Richmond was led by CJ Campbell with 25 points, seven rebounds and four assists while Ben Wacker scored 11.

River Falls went on to kick off the new year with a 77-47 victory over Ellsworth to move them to 5-1 on the season.

Johnson had team-highs of 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists while Liam Dougherty scored 12 points and Chapin and Joe Reardon added nine points each. JT Dougherty contributed eight points, eight rebounds and five assists and Schurman scored eight points while Ethan Campbell pulled down seven boards. The Wildcats outrebounded the Panthers 48-27.

After hosting Eau Claire North Tuesday, Jan. 5, the Wildcats will visit Menomonie Friday, Jan. 8.

Tigers bounce back by running past Prescott

After falling to River Falls last Tuesday night, New Richmond got 33 points from Campbell, 26 from Owen Covey and 11 from Wacker to post a season-high 89 points in an 89-73 victory over Prescott Saturday.

The Tigers led by just two, 43-41, at the break before pulling away in the second half.

Alex Jarchow contributed nine points in the win and Jarchow and Wacker pulled down eight rebounds each while Covey dished out a team-high eight assists. Campbell also had five rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots to go along with his 33 point night.

The Tigers, now 2-3, visited Baldwin-Woodville Tuesday night, Jan. 5, before hosting Somerset Thursday, Jan. 7. They’ll visit Menomonie Saturday, Jan. 9.