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We are the Champions!

Panthers hit big shots down stretch for victory

The Paola Panther Girls Basketball team made it three in a row to start the season, and more importantly took the championship trophy in the Eudora Invitational Basketball Tournament on Thursday, December 11, with a hard fought 56-44 victory over the host Eudora Cardinals.

“I just want to tell you guys two things,” said Panther Head Coach Stuart Ross after the game. “First, they (Eudora) are a good basketball team; and second, we’re better!”

The Panthers proved too much for the homestanding Cardinals as the Panthers rode a solid first half by senior star Rachel Hanf to a 26-20 halftime lead. But it wasn’t always easy. The Cardinals hung tough in the early going, including a short lived lead at 5-4, before Taelor Karr and Rachel Hanf hit back to back jumpers to give the Panthers the lead for good at 8-5.

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A Eudora free throw was sandwiched around two free throws by Karr and a basket by Rachel Schmidt to give the Panthers a 12-6 lead. Hanf stretched the lead to 14-6 on a jumper, before the Cardinals went on an 8-0 run to get the game tied at the end of the first quarter at 14-14.

Hanf came up big to begin the second quarter, hitting two jumpers to give the Panthers a four point lead at 18-14, and then answered a Eudora field goal with her sixth straight point to keep the lead at four at 20-16. She scored her seventh and eighth points of the quarter on free throws to move the lead back to four at 22-18.

Schmidt hit a jumper to give the Panthers a six point lead at 24-18. Hanf hit one more jumper and the Cardinals hit a pair of free throws and the lead remained at six points 26-20.

Kayla Offutt got into the scoring act in the third quarter, as she hit a layup off a nice feed from Karr to give the Panthers an eight point lead at 34-26 and then hit a big three pointer to bump the lead back to six points, after the Cardinals had cut the lead to just three at 34-31. The third quarter ended with the Panthers clinging to a slim 37-33 lead.

The Cardinals cut the Paola lead to two to start the fourth period, but Hanf hit two free throws to move the lead back to four. Eudora hit one of two free throws to cut the lead to three, before Allison Johnson hit two free throws to move the lead back to five at 41-36. That foul put the Panthers in the bonus with six and a half minutes to play in the game.

Hanf hit both ends of a one and one situation to open a seven point 43-36 lead, but the Cardinals proved up to the challenge hitting two quick buckets to cut the lead to three at 43-40.

The Panthers took control of the game in the next few minutes, hitting some huge baskets and free throws down the stretch.

“We hit some really big shots down the stretch,” Ross said. “It’s nice not only to be a great team, but to do things right and see them pay off.”

After the Cardinals cut the lead to three at 43-40, the Panthers put the game away on stellar play by their core group of seniors. Hanf started the run with a traditional three point play on a field goal and free throw to move the lead to 46-40. Karr hit a three point basket to open a nine point lead at 49-40. Taylor Smith nailed another three pointer to move the lead to 12 at 52-40 and Karr finished the run with a bucket to put the game on ice at 54-40.

Smith closed the Panther scoring with two free throws and the Cardinals hit a basket at the end of the game to make the final margin 56-44.

“It’s going to be one heck of a game in February,” Ross said about the rematch with the Cardinals. “But we have Oz on Tuesday, and we need to be ready.”

The Panthers will be in action twice this week at home, Tuesday against rival Osawatomie and will play Gardner on Thursday to close out action before the Christmas break.

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