Raiders finish regular season with loss, earn No. 3 seed

An eight-game win streak and a stellar regular season for the Central girls’ basketball team came to a surprising close with a forgettable road loss to Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted on Tuesday, Feb. 19.

The Raiders posted a season-low in points scored and were uncharacteristically overwhelmed by the Lakers, who struck for 12 first-half three-pointers and ran away with the game 83-39.

“Hopefully it’s a wake-up call in the sense that we do have playoffs coming up. Why it happened, I have no idea,” said Raiders head coach Gary Lembcke. “We don’t want to overanalyze it and dwell on it when we’re not that bad of a team. We just need to keep working to get better and go from there.”

The Raiders finished the regular season with a record of 21-5, and can look forward to the Subsection 5AA playoffs coming up next week. Central secured the No. 3 seed in the six-team south subsection and will face No. 6 Breck (5-18 overall record) in the opening round at home on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.

Providence Academy, the No. 1 team in the state in Class 2A, is the subsection’s top seed, and Jordan is the second seed. Both of those teams earned a bye in the first round.

In the other first-round game, No. 4 Mayer Lutheran is taking on No. 5 Watertown-Mayer.

The playoffs will be a chance for the Raiders to shake off the disappointment of the final regular game against the Lakers, who came into the contest with an almost identical record of 19-5. For whatever reason, the Raiders simply had a difficult time competing.

“Howard Lake just came out with a lot of energy and we did not seem to match it. Right from the beginning they started making threes. We were slow on the close-outs. It seemed like once we did get out on them they’d drive and then kick it out to someone else. It just seemed like we were slow on defense,” said Lembcke. “Offensively, I think we got frustrated. It was some of the things we saw earlier in the year. We kept trying to get ourselves back in the game quickly, but kept digging ourselves a deeper hole.”

The Lakers’ hot shooting quickly put Central at a disadvantage, and the Raiders found themselves trailing by a hefty 49-20 margin at halftime.

“You have to give Howard Lake a lot of credit. They came out and knocked down shots from all over the place,” said Lembcke. “They just got it going and we couldn’t stop them. We thought maybe we could regroup and cut into the lead in the second half, but it didn’t happen. It was a tough night.”

Brooke Willemsen and Lexi Erpenbach were the only Central players to score in double figures. Willemsen scored 13 and had six rebounds. Erpenbach scored 10 points and added four assists.

Morgan Karnes scored six points, Nicole Miller netted four points and Sami Jo Brinkmann was another rebound leader with six boards.

• If the Raiders win their playoff opener against Breck on Feb. 28, they will play again at 8 p.m. at Dassel-Cokato on Saturday, March 2. The subsection finals will be held Tuesday, March 5 at Dassel-Cokato at 8 p.m.

If the Raiders continue to advance, the section finals will be held Friday, March 8 at Halenbeck Hall at St. Cloud State University.

Contact Paul Downer at [email protected]