STOUGHTON — Caitlin Link is the unquestioned leader of the Madison Edgewood girls basketball team.

The 5-foot-9 senior guard assumed that mantle after Estella Moschkau and Katie Meriggioli departed to play college basketball following the Crusaders’ WIAA Division 3 state championship a year ago.

“It’s a lot different,” Link said. “I have a very different role. Where we had two very dynamic players last year, this year I definitely have to be a leader and help lead my team, which I enjoy.”

But Southern Illinois commit Link — who poured in a career-best 34 points — and the Crusaders (missing three injured starters) couldn’t overcome Stoughton’s balanced scoring and solid defense Friday night.

Senior Cassidy Bach scored a team-high 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and junior Emma Kissling added eight points for the Vikings, who had eight players score and rallied for a 51-44 victory over Edgewood in a Badger South Conference game.

“We might not have the elite kid, but we do have pretty good balance,” Stoughton coach Brad Pickett said. “We have four kids (Kissling, Bach, Paige Halverson and Peighton Trieloff) averaging double figures. I think we share the basketball pretty well and there is not a lot of selfishness on this team, which I think, obviously, helps us.”

Stoughton (14-3, 7-2 Badger South) won its fifth consecutive game and moved into sole possession of second place in league play, while continuing to chase conference leader Monroe.

The Vikings — receiving honorable-mention recognition in Division 2 in The Associated Press poll and ranked 10th in the WisSports.net coaches’ poll — held the Crusaders (12-5, 6-3) scoreless for 9 minutes, 42 seconds during a 16-0 second-half run that put Stoughton on top 39-27. In the first half, Stoughton came out sluggishly against Edgewood’s 2-3 zone and trailed 10-2 and 12-3, but cut its deficit to 24-23 at halftime.

“I thought we responded well,” said Pickett, whose team defeated Edgewood for the second time this season. “We worked our way back into the game and got it to one by halftime. Then I think we were able to change the pace of the game in the second half. We were able to run a little bit more. Obviously, we don’t have a ton of size, so we want to get out and run. We were able to do that and create some turnovers with our pressure.”

Edgewood, ranked 10th in Division 3 in the AP and WisSports.net polls, was without freshman starters Baluck Deang (concussion), Sarah Lazar (knee) and Ella Foti (knee), who is sidelined for the rest of the season, Crusaders coach Lora Staveness said. Starter Rachel Roehrig, a senior, only played limited minutes, coming back from injury.

Link scored all but 10 of Edgewood’s points, including 18 of 20 in the second half.

“Caitlin Link was a battler; they all battled hard,” Staveness said. “To play Stoughton, which was in second and they were fully loaded … we were right there. We just have to hit those shots. Kids have to step up and hit shots. We will go back and work and try to get healthy and try to improve a little bit. … We were rolling until the injury bug hit us.”Link said the injuries caused the Crusaders to reconfigure their offense in practice, trying to get her open with screens.

“We knew we were down a lot of players, but we accepted the fact that we would have to work harder and be really aggressive on defense,” Link said.

Pickett and Staveness said that Link, who sank four 3-pointers and was 12-for-14 from the foul line, made some difficult shots.

“She’s a tough kid,” Staveness said about Link, who has surpassed 1,000 career points. “Southern Illinois is lucky to be getting her. She has a scoring mentality and she had some nice drop-off passes.”

Madison Edgewood 24 20 — 44

Stoughton 23 28 — 51

MADISON EDGEWOOD — Link 9 12-14 34, Iglar 2 0-0 4, Moore 1 0-0 2, Schauer 2 0-0 4. Totals 14 12-14 44. STOUGHTON — Bach 3 5-6 13, Halverson 2 1-3 6, Kissling 3 2-2 8, Nelson 1 0-0 2, Trieloff 2 3-4 7, Ashworth 2 1-3 6, Frick 1 0-0 3, Baker 2 2-2 6. Totals 16 14-20 51.

3-point goals — ME 4 (Link 4), S 5 (Bach 2, Halverson 1, Ashworth 1, Frick 1). Total fouls — S 14, ME 17.

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.