CHIPPEWA FALLS — For 10 minutes, the Chippewa Falls girls basketball team showed why it has won the last seven Big Rivers Conference championships.
But for the final 26 minutes, Menomonie proved the path to another league title won’t be easy for the Cardinals.
Chi-Hi opened fast, but the Mustangs battled back before falling 68-59 on Friday evening in a key conference collision. Both teams entered Friday’s matchup tied atop the league standings at 2-0.
The Cardinals raced out to a 25-7 lead a little more than 10 minutes into the contest. The Mustangs would start to rally following the start, cutting the gap to eight by halftime. That stretch included four 3-pointers in a two minute, 30 second stretch near the end of the half with a pair of long-range buckets from Kylie Mogen and a triple apiece from Shelby Thornton and Helen Chen to get to within 35-27.
“We’re proud of the kids’ fight,” Menomonie coach Storm Harmon said. “Sometimes in the early part of the season you don’t know what you have with the girls and how they’ll respond to a good team – probably one of the best teams in the area, if not the best – taking it to you and to be able to fight back, claw back and get yourself back into a ballgame at the half and still there pushing tight all the way through, I’m really proud of the girls for doing that.”
Menomonie further cut into the lead in the second half, getting to six at 47-41 and 49-43 with baskets from Lindsey Johnson. Chi-Hi pushed the advantage back to 13 points before another Mustang surge got back to a six-point deficit with a 58-52 score following Mogen’s basket with 4:50 left.
But the Mustangs were limited to just one more basket from there as the Cardinals closed out the win and picked up the program’s 17th straight victory over Menomonie (4-2, 2-1).
“They’re a good team. They’ve got some good shooters, some really talented kids and they’re really well coached,” Chippewa Falls coach Becca Bestul said of Menomonie. “A team like that, no matter how much they’re down by they’re going to stick with you and if you let up at all that’s what is going to happen.”
Mogen led all scores with 23 points and four of her team’s seven 3-pointers. Johnson added eight points and Destiny Haldeman scored eight points.
Caelan Givens scored 20 points for Chi-Hi (3-2, 3-0) while Aaliyah McMillan and Alexis Zenner added 16 and 15 points, respectively.
The loss snapped a four-game win streak for Menomonie, who fell to Tomah in the season opener before defeating La Crosse Central, Rice Lake, Eau Claire Memorial and La Crosse Logan.
“It’s a BRC game on the road and I’m proud of our fight,” Harmon said. “We’ve been road dogs but we’re getting a taste, especially our young girls, of what this high-level basketball is going to be like.”
The game marked Menomonie’s third road conference game out of three thus far.
Menomonie returns to action on Friday at home against River Falls before a quick turnaround, playing at Holmen on Saturday. Chippewa Falls and Menomonie meet again on Jan. 29 in Menomonie.
“I’m proud of the heart. Heart will take you a long ways, even when it’s not your night and you can build off that,” Harmon said. “It’s when you don’t have that is when you start to worry.”