Burlington Champions!

Panthers take tournament title record is 12-0

WLH0217 The Paola Panther Girls capped their run through the Burlington Invitational Basketball Tournament with an eleven point, 58-47 victory in a free throw fest over the Labette County High School Grizzlies. The victory exorcised many Panther demons from Burlington Tournaments past, as time and time again Paola would head into this week of basketball with a stellar record, only to find heartbreak in the opening round.

“That was fantastic,” said Panther Head Coach Stuart Ross. “You’ve got to enjoy this for what it is, it’s a big deal, it’s been 15 years, enjoy it!”

Not only did the Panthers claim the tournament crown, but three members of the team were named to the all-tournament team, Megan Hayes, Taelor Karr and Rachel Hanf were all part of the team, and Hanf was named MVP of the Championship.

The game, though was a total opposite of the Panthers semi-final matchup with Topeka Hayden. On Friday afternoon, the teams combined for a total of 18 personal fouls called in the entire game, with neither team reaching the shooting bonus in either half. On Saturday, a whistle happy trio of officials sent the teams to the free throw line a combined 60 times, unofficially, with Labette County shooting 38 times.

The Panthers trailed through much of the first half, falling behind by as many as eight point during the opening half. The Grizzlies jumped out to a five point lead on two free throws from McKenna Britton and a three pointer from Stephanie Hope, before Hanf got the Panthers on the board by hitting the second of two free throws following a foul by Britton.

The Panters were able to close the gap to one at 6-5 on baskets by Rachel Schmidt and Hanf sandwiched around a free throw by Britton, but free throws from Britton, Whitney Green and Karlee Lehmann re-opened the lead for Labette County at 11-5. The Panthers were able to close the gap to four on two Karr free throws at the end of the period and the first quarter ended with Labette County holding a four point, 11-7 lead.

WLH0225 The Grizzlies got baskets by Katie Rohling and Britton to open the second quarter and extend their lead to eight points at 15-7. It would be the biggest lead of the game for the Grizzlies. Paola immediately sliced into the lead, on the strength of baskets by Karr and Taylor Smith and two free throws from Hanf and the lead was cut to two at 15-13. Jade Lambkins hit two free throws to bump the lead back to four, before Ashlee Johnson hit the second of two free throws and Hanf hit another basket to cut the lead to one at 17-16.

The lead stayed at three as Hope and Karr traded baskets before Kenzie Brader hit a single free throw to give the Grizzlies a two point advantage at 20-18. Megan Hayes hit both ends of a one and one situation with two and a half minutes to play in the second quarter to tie the game for the first time since the opening tip at 20-20. Lambkins and Hanf traded baskets to keep the game tied at 22 each before Morgan Workman hit a free throw and Schmidt hit a basket with under 30 seconds to play in the half to give the Panthers their first lead of the game at 24-23.

Unofficially the Grizzlies went to the line 19 times in the first half, compared to only 10 times for the Panthers.

As has been the case many times this season, during the Panthers winning streak, the third period has been the turning point in the game. Coach Ross and his team have been very good this year in making adjustments not only on the fly during the flow of the game, but many times the Panthers have turned a close game lots more comfortable with big third quarters.

This game would be no different, and the difference maker came in the form of an 8-2 run to open the second half that was sparked by two baskets by Johnson and single field goals by Hanf and Smith sandwiched around a bucket by Britton that turned the single point halftime lead by Paola to a seven point advantage at 32-25.

A second run of 8-6, on the strength of back to back three pointers by Karr and Hanf upped the lead to nine at 40-31. The teams traded baskets, one each from Kayla Offutt and Hanf against one each from Lambkins and Britton to send the game to the final period with the Panthers holding a nine point 44-35 lead. The one scary part of the third quarter came at the 2:04 mark when Karr was whistled for her fourth personal foul.

The final quarter turned into a march to the foul line as the teams combined for 29 free throw attempts, which included the missing of the front end of three one and one situations.

The Panthers opened the final period with Johnson being sent to the line on the third personal foul by Kenzie Brader, but she was able to convert only one of two free throws to give the Panthers their biggest lead to that point in the game at 10 points 45-35.

The Grizzlies burned a golden opportunity to get right back in the game, as they were awarded eight free throws over the next few minutes but were able to hit only three of the attempts, and after all that and baskets by Schmidt and Hanf, the Panthers had escaped the free throw barrage, and actually increase their lead at 49-38.

The only bad news in the free throw exhibition by the Grizzlies was the fact that Johnson, and Hayes picked up their fourth fouls in the process. Hayes would retire to the bench a short time later, with just over four minutes to play in the game, as her fifth foul sent Britton to the line for two shots, which she made to chop the lead to single digits at 49-40. Hanf hit a bucket and Smith and Johnson each missed the front end of one and one situations and LeighAnn Omarkhail hit a basket combined with a free throw from Lambkins to get the Grizzlies to within eight points at 51-43.

The Panther lead would drop to six on the strength of two more free throws by Britton, who went to the line thanks to the fifth foul by Johnson with under two minutes to play. Karr hit the first of two free throws just before a Labette County time out with a minute and a half to play in the game, and then hit the second of two free throws coming out of the break to bump the lead back to eight at 53-45. Allison Wood and Hanf hit three free throws and with less than a minute to play in the game the Panthers held a comfortable 56-45 lead. Lambkins and Hanf traded points, with the final two points by Hanf coming appropriately on two free throws to make the final margin 58-47.

Ross was pleased with his teams championship run, telling them that he was happy with the way they reacted to the ever changing situations that have confronted them in games this year.

“You did your thing, you played your game and you won,” Ross told his team. “I was happy with the way you just went out and played, you ignored the refs, you ignored everything and just played.”

The Panthers were pleased too with the way the tournament went.

“This was a huge win for us,” said Panther senior Taelor Karr. “It keeps our streak going, we played tough and kept battling, Labette is a good team.”

“It was pretty cool being a part of this team and the win,” said senior Megan Hayes. “We’re leaving a legacy for teams to shoot for in the future.”

All three seniors were pleased with their inclusion on the all tournament team, and Hanf expressed surprise at her MVP award.

“I was really surprised,” she said. “But I couldn’t have done it without my team mates.”

The Panthers have a short two days to savor the victory, before putting their streak on the line with a trip to Mill Valley on Tuesday, January 27, 2009.

But for now the Panthers will just be happy with another piece of championship hardware to go along with their Eudora Tournament Championship won back in December, and they will continue to concentrate on two more trophies that are next on the horizon, a Sub-State championship and the opportunity to compete at the highest competition level at the state tournament in early March.