Against top-notch competition Menomonie coach Storm Harmon wants to his young group to compete no matter the scoreboard.
The Menomonie girls basketball team cut an 19-point second half deficit to 10 but it wasn’t enough against reigning Big Rivers Conference champion Chippewa Falls in a 48-38 loss for the Mustangs on Friday in Menomonie.
“I thought we did a better job of taking care of the ball, not so many silly turnovers which kind of allowed us to hang (around), “ Harmon said. “That’s what you want to do against really good teams, give yourself a chance at the end, but we’re a growing group.
“It’s important that we don’t get our doors knocked out against teams like this and then you can continue to compete against them.”
The Mustangs (2-4, 1-1) held steady with the Cardinals over the opening stretch as Shelby Thornton’s banked 3-pointer from the top of the key tied the game at nine apiece with nine minutes, 28 seconds left in the first half. Chippewa Falls (3-1, 2-0) took command with a 18-7 run over the final nine minutes of the half as it pushed its advantage to double digits.
“When we started we had a lot of open shots, a lot of shots in the lane that we missed,” Chippewa Falls coach Becca Bestul said. “I kept telling them if we play like that on defense we can afford to miss those type of shots. We were solid on D, (and) we boarded well.”
Menomonie struggled to get clean looks and find driving lanes through much of the first half as the Chippewa Falls defense locked in.
“They’re a complete ball club,” Harmon said of Chippewa Falls. “There’s few teams in the area that can not only make you go crazy on how to defend them but trying to find ways to score with their length (is also challenging).”
Aaliyah McMillan’s offensive rebound and put back pushed the Cardinals in front 45-26 with 7:44 left in the game. Emily Schwartz had an answer for Menomonie on the other end with a triple but Chippewa Falls’ Ava Fries connected from deep a short while after to keep the margin at 19. That would be the final points for the Cardinals as the Mustangs held Chippewa Falls scoreless over the final 6:18.
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“I think that’s been kind of a common trend with them, they keep competing,” Harmon said of his players. “We try to get it ingrained that it doesn’t matter what the score says.”
Menomonie slowly clawed its way back. Helen Chen made two shots from distance about a minute apart that made it a 48-37 game with 3:21 left. The defense for the Cardinals once again clamped down as Menomonie was unable to convert on another field goal the rest of the way.
“We got pretty sloppy in the end,” Bestul said. “We turned it over too much and credit to Menomonie they put on some good defense and pressure and that frazzled us a little bit but we were able to still play solid defense on our end.”
Menomonie was led by Chen’s game-high 13 points. Thornton added nine and Schwartz seven with Emma Mommsen at six.
Chippewa Falls was led by Alexis Zenner with 12 points. McMillan had 10 points and Caelan Givens score all eight of her points in the first half. Fries and Savannah Hinke both had six.
Menomonie returns to the court next Friday at River Falls.
“It’s a good test for us in the beginning of the season,” Harmon said. “We’ll keep battling. It’s a really fun group that we’re working with and I think they get it.”