Perfect Comeback!

Panther Girls remain unbeaten, down Gardner in OT 55-50

by Bill Hauldren

The Paola Panther Girls Basketball team stole a page for their male counterparts on Thursday night, as they fell behind big to the visiting Gardner-Edgerton Trailblazers, trailing by as many as 10 points in the first half and seven at the intermission, only to storm back and take a five point 55-50 victory in overtime to head into the Christmas break with a perfect 5-0 record and a top five ranking in the state.

Only four days earlier, the Panther girls had watched as the Paola boys fell behind to the Osawatomie Trojans by 15 points at the half, only to come back a nearly identical 52-50 victory on the Panthers home floor. On this night the girls figured what was good for the goose was good for the gander, as they were able to withstand some serious punches from the Trailblazer offense and and a first half shooting performance from the field that was nastier than the cold rain falling outside to take the victory.

"That was a really sweet win for our kids," said Panthers Head Coach Stuart Ross. "There were many important things riding on this game. First it was a league game and puts us up on everyone else, second it was good to get another win before Christmas for seeding in the Burlington Tournament, and finally it was Gardner."

The Trailblazers came out firing on all cylinders in the first half, and the Panthers were chugging along like they had a couple of spark plug wires crossed. In fact, had it not been for an outstanding 14-16 shooting performance from the free throw line, the game might have been over in the first half, as Paola managed only three field goal in the entire half, hitting only one field goal from Megan Hayes in the first quarter, and then not hitting another until Rachel Hanf scored with 3:07 to play in the second quarter.

Gardner opened up a seven point lead right out of the gate, as they used a three pointer a two point field goal and two free throws to open the scoring in the game. Taelor Karr got the Panthers on the board with two free throws to cut the Blazer lead to five, but Stevie Brown hit the first of her three first period three pointers to move the lead to eight at 10-3.

Rachel Hanf and Karr would go on to hit free throws in the quarter to keep the Panthers at least close to Gardner and the quarter ended with Paola trailing 18-10.

The second quarter was more of the same for the Panthers, as they again could not seem to find a way to get a field goal to drop, but managed to stay within sight of Gardner with torrid shooting form the charity stripe.

After Gardner’s Ashlee Bihlmer hit a bucket to opened the second quarter scoring with a two pointer to give the Blazer’s their largest lead of the game at 20-10, the Panthers began chipping away at the lead, with Taylor Smith hitting two free throws before Kelsie George of Gardner hit a free throw to make the score 21-12. Hanf hit the Panthers first basket in an eternity with three minutes to play in the half to cut the lead to 21-14 before Sophia Stockton moved the lead back to nine at 23-14.

Allison Wood hit two more free throws before Karr missed the second half of a one and one situation for the Panthers, breaking a string of 13 consecutive free throws for Paola to make the score 23-17. Karr followed with a steal and bucket to cut the Blazer lead to only four at 23-19, but Stockton and Clarra Washington hit baskets for Gardner to bump the lead back to eight at 27-19. Smith hit the final free throw by the Panthers in the half making one of two to send the teams to the locker room with Gardner leading 27-20.

While the Panthers had been unable to buy a basket in the first half, the second started much better for Paola, Ashlee Johnson lead the Panthers in scoring in the quarter with three baskets and six points, Smith and Hanf each had a three pointer and a basket for five points each and Karr added two field goals for four points. All totaled, it was a 20-10 advantage for the Panthers in the quarter, erasing the seven point deficit and staking Paola to a three point 40-37 lead.

The Trailblazers were not going to go quietly into the dark, damp night though, as they outscored the Panthers 12-9 in the final period on the strenth of two three pointers by Kelsie George who hit eigh of her team high 13 points in the final quarter. The Panthers, who were deadly from the free throw line in the first half, hit only five of ten attempts in the fourth quarter, and the Blazer were able to tie the game and send it to overtime at 49-49.

Taylor Smith came up big for the Panthers in the O.T. hitting four of four from the line and Hayes hit a basket to outscore the Blazers 6-1 in the extra frame to come awa with the win.

"We can't help but put a lot of stock into beating one of our rivals," Ross said. "At home, and in overtime. Fun stuff!"

The Junior Varsity and Freshman teams did not fare as well against the Blazers, as the JV fell to Gardner by a 51-35 count and the Freshman girls lost to the Trailblazers by a score of 41-36.

The Panthers are idle for the Christmas Holidays, returning to action on January 6, 2009 with a home game against Girard.