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Ellsworth girls basketball wins season opener over Mondovi

ELLSWORTH – The Mondovi Buffaloes strode into the Ellsworth gym on Tuesday evening to tip-off the 2021-22 girls basketball season and jumped to an early lead, including a 10-0 run to end the half. The Buffs, led by 10 first-half points by Ava Gray, led 29-23 at the break. The Panthers responded in the second half with a 43-30 advantage on the way to a season-opening 66-59 win.

The Panthers attacked their visitors in a full court manner to begin the game to some mild success, while the Buffaloes responded with some three-quarter court pressure of their own that led to some easier points as two lay-ups and several free throws resulted from the defensive handiwork. The girls in blue also drilled four three-point baskets in the half to go with 13 free throws.

On the other end, the Panthers showed their inexperience, as only one returning starter was available on Opening Night, so there were many new roles to be had. Molly Janke kept the Panther offense from falling too far behind with 13 in the first half, while Taylor Peterson tallied four.

The host Panthers would not be outdone on their first night out in ‘21 however, as they came out of the half-time locker room on fire on the defensive end, surging to a 30-29 lead before Mondovi could muster a basket. Maria Harrington led the defensive charge at the top of the Ellsworth zone, as she affected several passes, while Hayley Bach provided some offensive spark, scoring nine secondhalf points.

After a back-n-forth second half, the Panthers finally took a 57-56 lead in the last 4:00 and rode some rocky free throw shooting to account for the 66-59 final score.

Janke led the scoring barrage for Ellsworth in the second half with 19 of her game-high 32 points, while Bach provided 10 on the evening. Ava Gray led the visitors with 23 on the strength of four three-point bombs on the night. Several Panthers broke into the scoring column in a balanced fashion, as Harrington added to her defensive presence with six points, Aubrey Wittenberg and Jillian Griggs added five apiece, while Peterson and Kayla Kressin netted four each. Janke led the Panthers with 14 rebounds while Wittenberg snared seven.

“We really looked like the inexperienced Varsity team that we are in the first half,” stated coach Janke. “Especially in the last 6:00 there where they went on that 10-0 run. We have no excuse, we have played a lot of ball, and we’ll get better there, but we just didn’t handle their defense very well in the first half. Part of that was our inability to set up and play with some patience, but we have to give them credit also, they returned a lot of players and they looked the part on their end.”

“Even our returning kids (Janke and Bach, as returning starter Ava Brookshaw is injured) are ‘new’ in a way, as they’ve only played on a HS court with the kids who graduated last year, and that crew brought a lot of strength and stability. Plus, when you take out Autumn’s (Autumn Earney graduated in 2021 as the program’s leading scorer in history) 22+ points a game, that’s a lot of offense to make up for in high school.”

“We’ll get better,” said Janke, “We really missed Ava’s presence, she’ll be back soon to bolster us on both ends; and our players are going to get better fast playing the high level of competition we have on our schedule. We may have one of the tougher schedules of anyone in our sectional, so it’s nice to find a way to win right away. We are proud of the effort put forth by the girls.”

The next game for the Ellsworth Panthers was on Tuesday, Nov. 23, at home against Saint Croix Central in a Middle Border Conference matchup.

November 23, 2021