Raiders start with three wins

Lexi Erpenbach drives around an ACGC defender during Central’s 78-56 win in the home opener on Nov. 29. Erpenbach had 18 points in the game. Photo by Paul Downer

The winter sports season is kicking into gear, and the Central girls’ basketball team wasted no time in accelerating out of the gate with three wins in the first week of play.

Central used stifling defense, control of the boards and an up-tempo offense to post a 64-30 win over Mound-Westonka on Nov. 27, a 78-56 win over Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (ACGC) on Nov. 29 and a 49-17 win over Legacy Christian on Dec. 1 at the Target Center.

Head coach Gary Lembcke said he has been pleased with the team’s play so far, particularly because the Raiders have not gotten off to particularly strong starts over the past three or four years.

“The things that we’ve been trying to work on in practice, we’re starting to put into games,” said Lembcke. “We’ve been doing a lot of work with rebounding, a lot of work in trying to play up-tempo and we’ve been able to transfer that over into game situations.”

Central 64, M-W 30
The opening game of the season didn’t include much suspense, as the Raiders broke out to an early lead at Mound and never let the White Hawks get closer than about 11 points. Central led 40-16 at halftime, and only expanded that lead with another 24 points in the second half to Mound-Westonka’s 14.

“Mound beat us last year and we were aware that they like to get up and down the court. So we did a much better job of getting back and stopping them,” said Lembcke. “Last year we also had a lot of trouble with them taking drives to the basket because we weren’t cutting them off and they were able to make layups. But we took that away too, so I was very pleased.”

Four Raiders reached double figures in scoring, with Lexi Erpenbach leading the way at 18. Brooke Willemsen added 14 points, and Kaylie Brazil and Nicole Miller each scored 10 points.

Erpenbach also had five assists and five steals, Willemsen had four assists and four steals with a team-high 15 rebounds, Brazil had five assists with three steals, and Miller had two blocks.

Sami Jo Brinkmann blocked three shots and had seven rebounds, and Morgan Karnes had nine rebounds and two steals.

“Miller, Karnes, Willemsen and Brinkmann, they did a great job of controlling the boards. Mound got very few second shots,” said Lembcke. “I thought it was a very good start and I was very pleased with the defense. We were able to put pressure on them, but we also put pressure on them offensively, pushing the ball up the court. It was kind of like we dictated the pace, which is something that we never really found an identity doing last year. That’s something we’re trying to do this year, and hopefully we can keep doing that.”

Central 78, ACGC 52
While ACGC did a better job of staying close to the Raiders throughout most of the game, the end result was another big win for Central in the season home-opener.

The Raiders took a 38-28 lead in the first half, then poured in 40 more second-half points to run away with the game in the closing minutes.

“It was probably closer than that in the sense that, in the first half I wasn’t real pleased with our defense. They had a three-point shooter and a couple of times we didn’t close out on her real well,” said Lembcke. “We had a comfortable lead, but we didn’t ever seem to really put the game away until the end when we got it going.”

Miller provided a big spark off the bench, scoring 16 points and leading the team with 10 rebounds. Brazil and Erpenbach tied for the team lead in scoring with 18 points apiece. Brazil added seven assists and five steals, and Erpenbach had eight assists and four steals.

Willemsen also had a 10-point game, while Morgan Karnes (nine rebounds) and Brinkmann (eight rebounds) helped the Raiders dominate the paint.

“Again, we controlled the boards rebounding, which was not a strength for us last year. We had a lot of trouble doing that. Right now, in the first three games, that has been a strength for us. Our rebounding has been a lot stronger,” said Lembcke.

“It was a very solid game that we played. We ran our fast break efficiently. We may have rushed our shots offensively, and I think sometimes we took our shots too quick, but part of that is trying to get the ball up and down the court. We’re still working on that.”

Central 49, LC 17
While the Raiders didn’t play their best game under the bright lights at the Target Center, the Legacy Christian Lions were still hardly a match for Central. The Raiders led 30-4 at halftime, and added a 19-13 advantage in the second half to finish off the win.

“We did not play exceptionally well,” said Lembcke. “We’ve had some hard practices as well as a couple of games, so I thought we looked a little tired in the legs. But we still played very good defense. It was kind of a fun atmosphere playing down at the Target Center.”

While Lembcke saw a number of missed opportunities and wasn’t overly happy with the Raiders’ shooting, Central again dominated in the rebound game.

While complete stats were not available, Erpenbach led the team with 15 points, Brazil had 14, and Brooke Willemsen scored 12 points.