NECEDAH — In early January, Necedah sat at 2-8 overall with a 0-5 mark in conference play. The Cardinals were young and inexperienced, and it showed. Not even a month later, they’ve made substantive strides that have yielded four straight wins in Scenic Bluffs play.
The Cardinals (6-9 overall, 4-5 Scenic Bluffs) continued their winning ways with a convincing 61-38 over Royall (6-8, 4-5) Tuesday, Feb. 5 in Necedah. With the victory, they avenged an earlier 42-28 loss to the Panthers Dec. 20 in Elroy.
“We’re definitely making strides in the right direction and building on some successes,” said Necedah head coach Kris Saylor. “That’s what you want to see. We’re a different team than the one that played on the courts around the area before Christmas.”
Their improvements were on full display Tuesday night.
After leading by six at the break, Necedah continued to extend its lead throughout the second half. The Cardinals spent most of the final 18 minutes leading by double digits and eventually pulled away to win by 23 points thanks to a late flurry of points.
“I think our defense — they’re starting to get the idea of where we have to be on defense and we’re being irritating because that’s what we’re good at,” Saylor said of his team’s improvements. “Offensively, we’ve done some tweaks since Christmas and our kids have really taken to it and taken coaching well.
“What I liked tonight, more than anything else, was that we had a lead, but we didn’t nurse the lead. We extended it.”
Junior guard Jaron Murphy finished with a game-high 26 points and freshman guard Landen Murphy scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half to lead the way for the Cardinals. For Royall, senior guard Dane Hyer and junior guard Keith Schnurr had 14 and 10 points, respectively.
The loss was the Panthers’ fourth in a row and capped off a taxing stretch that saw them play four games in six days and three in the last four. Saylor believed fatigue was a factor in Royall’s lackluster performance Tuesday night and otherwise praised the job head coach Scott Uppena and his staff have done with the Panthers this season.
“They looked fatigued to me a little bit. At least that’s what I would assume,” Saylor said. “Kudos to Coach Uppena. They played Saturday, took a break Sunday and then played the last two nights. He’s a heck of a coach, he’s done a nice job and we just caught them on a bad night in a tough run for them.”
Things don’t get any easier for the improved Necedah squad. The Cardinals’ next three conference games are all on the road against teams that are a combined 22-6 in conference play: Hillsboro (10-6, 7-3), Cashton (9-6, 6-3) and Bangor (14-1, 9-0).
Nevertheless, Saylor is thrilled to see where his team continue can continue to grow as the regular season enters its final weeks.
“I really, really like our kids,” he said. “They work hard, they have great attitudes, they’re always learning, they’re always asking questions and we, even though we’re undersized, we feel like we outwork a lot of our opponents.”