Jan. 14—BENZONIA — The start isn't what always matters, but the finish certainly is.
The Frankfort Panthers proved that Thursday night in a 55-32 varsity girls basketball win at Benzie Central.
Both Frankfort and Benzie struggled out of the gate. The first points of the Northwest Conference game were not scored until Frankfort's Tara Townsend knocked down a three from the top of the key with 1:26 left in the first quarter.
"They were just so excited to play Benzie. The adrenaline was pumping just a little bit too hard," Frankfort head coach Tim Reznich said. "But they settled down enough to get us what we needed."
Benzie notched its first points about a minute later on a Natalie Rucki layup to avoid a scoreless first frame. Despite scoring just one basket, the Huskies trailed just 5-2 after eight minutes.
"It certainly wasn't an offensive extravaganza in the first," Benzie head coach Mark Dobrzynski said. "It was a defensive battle."
The second quarter got off to a quicker start with both teams getting their first bucket within the first 1:08 — Frankfort on a 3-pointer from Savina Anhalt, and Benzie on a Marie Reidlinger layup. Strong defense, missed opportunities and turnovers on both sides slowed the scoring again, and the Panthers led 18-8 at the half.
"I was frustrated, but I'm not going to panic when we're missing shots like the ones we had," Reznich said. "We were getting layups, we were getting open shots, and we just weren't knocking them down."
Reznich said that has been "the story of our season."
Benzie's Gloria Stepanovich scored the first four points of the second half, but Frankfort managed to build on its lead and go up 35-22 after three quarters of play. The Panthers kept the pressure on in the fourth and scored six straight points off turnovers to put the game out of reach.
Grace Wolfe led the Panthers with a double-double, 15 points and 10 rebounds — nine of the offensive variety. Kinzee Stockdale chipped in the 10 points, Townsend had nine and Emma MacKenzie seven.
The sophomore Wolfe said they came out nervous and were "rushing everything."
"We weren't getting what we were looking for, but it was there," Wolfe said. "Once we slowed it down, we knew we could take control of this game. When we work together and keep our energy up and know what we have to do, we get it done."
The Panthers (5-3, 4-1 NWC) were looking up at Benzie and Glen Lake in the Northwest Conference as they took to the court Thursday. Frankfort's only conference loss came at the hands of the undefeated Lakers, who look poised for a long postseason run.
Reznich said Frankfort has yet to find its groove, but the Panthers are not far from settling in and becoming a problem for opponents in the near future.
The Panthers scored more than 40 points in all eight games, more than 50 three times, and just put up a season-high 67 Tuesday against Buckley. In their three losses, however, Frankfort allowed 50, 58 and 62 points.
"If we could put together four quarters of finishing on offense, we're going to be really tough," Reznich said. "We're getting more disciplined on offense, we're getting better, but we're still rushing things."
Next on the docket for Frankfort is a trip to the Thumb and a game against Redford Westfield Prep on Monday.
The Huskies (5-4, 3-1 NWC) came into Thursday's contest as winners of five straight. Benzie dropped its first three games of the season, scoring just 47 total points against stiff competition in Ludington, Traverse City St. Francis and Traverse City Central.
The Huskies snapped their early-season skid and more than doubled their season total in a 51-29 win against Buckley on Dec. 9. They had yet to suffer the bitter taste of defeat since and averaged nearly 45 points per game in those five wins.
"It's not panic time. It's just one night," Dobrzynski said. "We had a rough go of it, but we did have a great few weeks before this. Our job now is to get right back on the positive train and right the ship."
COVID-19 restrictions knocked the Huskies down to just six varsity players, which meant Dobrzynski had to rely on several JV players to be on the court for significant minutes.
"That hurt us, but our youth came in and did everything they could to help us," he said. "But Frankfort earned that victory. They were the better team tonight."
Kara Johnson was the high scorer for Benzie with 12 points.
"We're growing. We're getting stronger," said Dobrzynski, who has been on the job for just a month after Sarah Ross stepped down as head coach. "We're in a transition position, right now. It's a learning process."
Benzie continues Northwest Conference play Wednesday on the road against Kingsley.