Creston junior Brielle Baker cooking as her teammates rise

Brielle Baker was one of Creston’s two significant returners. She’s averaged 21.2 points and 5.3 rebounds as the young Panthers continue to develop.

CRESTON, Iowa — The Creston girls used the first nine games of the season to erase jitters from inexperience.

But three-year starter Brielle Baker has taken the reins while her teammates get acclimated, averaging 21.2 points per game and 5.3 rebounds for a 3-6 Creston team that lost four straight before the break.

“We’ve been playing a lot of difficult and harder teams in the past week, and that has challenged us and made us better as a team,” the junior said. “We have a lot of freshmen that are trying to take over roles that we lost from last year.

“They’ve been transitioning well and are starting to get the hang of it.”

Baker (15.1 points as a sophomore) and senior Breanna Wallace were the only significant returners from last season’s 9-13 team, and Creston played Class 4-A No. 2 Lewis Central (9-0), Class 3-A No. 7 Carroll Kuemper (7-2) and 8-2 Chariton during its four-game skid.

This year, Wallace has struggled to recapture her 3-point shooting touch (34.1 percent as a junior to 19.1 percent this season), dipping her scoring from 9.8 points a game to 4.5 as a senior. Despite her preference to drive, Baker has helped ease that drop by shooting a career-best 42.5 percent from long range.

Wallace leads Creston with 19 assists — followed by Baker with 18.

Freshman Kelsey Fields is the exception to the learning curve, averaging 11.9 points and 8.2 rebounds while trying to replace the post production left behind by the graduated Cammy Rutherford.

Baker said the Panthers prefer to work inside-out with the 6-foot-1 Fields to get their offense moving.

“(First-year coach Britt Roberts) has been telling us to get the ball into (Fields) because a lot of people can’t guard her because she’s taller than them,” Baker said. “If we pound the ball in to her we can usually get some good offense going.”

Baker and Fields are the only players averaging more than five points.

“We definitely need more people to start stepping up and scoring because we can’t do it all,” Baker said. “We just have to focus on doing all the little things right because eventually those will all add up.”

Baker said her willingness to lead and her patience with the younger players will be vital for the Panthers to reach their potential.

When Roberts — the JV coach last year — met with Baker before the season, they talked about how she needed to take her leadership to another level after relying on seniors to do the talking in her first two seasons.

“She just wanted me to become more of a leader,” Baker said. “We had a lot of seniors last year so I still thought of myself as a leader. I just was more of a quiet leader last year, and this year I’m stepping up and being more vocal on the court.”

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