Bucs hold off Panthers

Published 9:44 pm Friday, February 6, 2015

Marnie Wagner of NRHEG is defended by Waterville-Elysian-Morristown's Brooke Galler Friday at New Richland. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Marnie Wagner of NRHEG is defended by Waterville-Elysian-Morristown’s Brooke Galler Friday at New Richland. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

NEW RICHLAND — In the face of change, the NRHEG girls’ basketball team made headway toward establishing an identity this season.

The Panthers returned two starters — sophomore twins Maddie and Marnie Wagner — from back-to-back state championship teams. They play the same positions, but their roles are new.

With a new coach and the graduation Carlie Wagner — the school record holder in career scoring, assists and steals — and Jade Schultz — the school record holder in career rebounds — the twins are in a position to lead.

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After the Panthers started 5-7, they defeated United South Central 58-49 to spark a six-game winning streak. The twins stepped up and averaged for 31.5 points per game combined during that span.

“Ever since (the win over USC) we’ve been building off of that,” said NRHEG coach Onika Peterson. “We really started to get some confidence and come into our own.”

Maddie led NRHEG on Friday with 22 points and Marnie added a team-high eight rebounds, but the Panthers lost 64-53 Friday against Waterville-Elysian-Morristown at New Richland.

“They’re always pretty strong,” Peterson said about the twins. “They can definitely sit outside and shoot the 3-ball, but they’re not scared of anybody. They’ll take it to the basket when they need to.”

It was the Panthers’ first loss against the Buccaneers listed on Minnesota-Scores.net. The website’s records date back a decade.

In the first half, NRHEG jumped out to a 10-9 lead, but a 12-1 run propelled Waterville-Elysian-Morristown to a 28-19 halftime advantage.

A 3-point play by Maddie cut the Panthers’ deficit to four points with 12:26 left in regulation, and NRHEG took its first lead of the second half, 38-37, on a layup by Kayley Camerer.

On the ensuing position, Camerer, who had seven points, twisted her ankle and didn’t return to the court. At 5-foot-11, she was the tallest player on NRHEG’s roster. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown took advantage by pounding the ball inside to fuel a 7-0 run and take a 45-38 lead.

A pair of 3-pointers by Rachel Collins cut the Panthers’ deficit to five points with 4:31 to play. Collins scored seven points.

“She’s (5-foot-4-inches) tall maybe, and she plays like she’s 6-2,” Peterson said. “She can hit the outside shot, and she can also go inside among the giants. She plays fearlessly.”

NRHEG was in the double bonus, and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown pulled away by sinking free throws.

Grace Johns and Ryann Hagen added two points each for NRHEG.

Next, the Panthers (11-8, 7-3 Gopher) will play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Farimont (14-6, 10-5 Big South).