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Handin' out Pink slips!

It takes double overtime, but Panthers down 'Cats 67-65

WLH0327 To say there were distractions surrounding the Paola Panthers and Louisburg Wildcats Girls Basketball teams as they took the floor Friday night would be an understatement.

The game itself was important enough, the Wildcats coming to town as defending Frontier League champions, and the Panthers, sporting an impressive 18-0 record and a number one, or number two ranking in the state, depending on which poll you look at, were set for a battle, no matter how one sliced it.

But add to the drama that would surround the game on a regular night, the fact that it was senior night, when the Panthers would salute five seniors, who have lead the Panthers to the pinnacle of the state rankings, taking a moment to thank Courtney Clouse, Rachel Hanf, Megan Hayes, Taelor Karr and Taylor Smith for their excellent play and dedication to the Panther program.

PinkRibbon Finally to top it off with the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Pink Out for Breast Cancer Awareness, complete with the Panthers sporting pink uniforms, and appearing on the KMBC Channel 9 morning show with live cut-ins early in the morning, and the scene was set for a basketball game for the ages.

The two teams didn’t disappoint, as the Panthers and Wildcats battled it out, through four quarters and two overtimes before the Panthers prevailed 67-65 as a last second shot by Katelynn O’Hara rolled off the rim, sealing the game for Paola.

Several times through the course of the game the Panthers appeared ready to put the Wildcats away, but to the ‘Cats credit, they would not go away, never allowing the Panthers to get over the top and crack the game open. The Wildcats broke on top on a basket by Abbey Frazier, but Hanf, Karr and Ashlee Johnson put the Panthers on a 7-2 run to open a 7-4 lead. The ‘Cats cut the led to one on an O’Hara bucket, Smith hit a three pointer to push the lead to six at 10-4. Lindsay Stacks cut the lead to two with a pair of free throws, but Karr hit a bucket and was fouled to bump the lead back to four at 12-8. Karr failed to convert the free throw and and Hanf hit one of two free throws to give the Panthers a 13-8 lead. Missed free throws would cost the Panthers a chance to win the game in regulation play. Rachel Schmidt hit a bucket to close the first quarter and the Panthers sported a seven point 15-8 lead after one period of play.

The Panthers spend most of the second quarter pulling away from the Wildcats, only to have them reel the home team back in. A Hanf three pointer early in the quarter stretched the Panther lead to eight points at 18-10, only to have the Wildcats cut the lead back to three at 19-16. Johnson and Hayes hit consecutive baskets to bump the lead back to seven at 23-16, but an O’Hara free throw and a Jordan Shearer basket cut the lead to four at 23-19. The Wildcats had the ball with time running out in the half with a chance to cut the lead to one or two points, but Kayla Offutt stepped in front a a pass and hit a basket just before the buzzer the the Panther lead was six at the intermission, 25-19.

The third quarter has been good to the Panthers this season, and Paola threatened to once again break open the game, but the Wildcats would not be denied. After a Lindsay Stacks free throw, Hanf and Karr combined for six points to give the Panthers a double digit lead at 31-20. The Wildcats went on an 8-2 run and when Larissa Beckman hit one of three free throws, the Panther lead was cut to five at 33-28. Karr hit a three pointer and closed the scoring in the quarter with a three point play sandwiched around two Frazier free throws and a bucket by Marisa Mackey and the Panthers maintained their seven point lead at 39-32.

The fourth quarter started with Karr hitting two quick baskets to push the lead to double digits again at 43-32, but the Panthers were again unable to put the Wildcats away.

Frazier and Hanf traded baskets before Hayes missed two free throws to keep the Panther lead at eleven points 45-34. Stacks and Hanf traded three pointers before Frazer hit the front end of a one and one situation and the Panther lead was ten points with about four minutes to play in the game. The Wildcats then did something that no other team had been able to do through the season, the made a late game run on Paola that cut the lead from ten to four points and with two and a half minutes to play in the game, the Panthers called time out to stop the Wildcat momentum.

WLH0325 Hanf stepped up and hit a bucket coming out of the time out to give the Panthers back a six point lead but the Panthers were unable to take advantage of the free throw line coming down the stretch and the game began to unravel for Paola. Johnson missed the front end of a one and one before Frazier hit a basket to cut the lead to four. at 50-46. Karr missed the front end of a one and one and O’Hara hit a basket to cut the lead to two at 50-46. Stacks hit two free throws with 47.9 seconds to play in the game, and the Wildcats had come all the way back in less than two minutes to tie the game a 50.

The Panthers free throw woes would continue a few seconds later as Hanf managed to hit only the front end of a one and one and when O’Hara hita basket with 7.5 seconds to play in the game, the Wildcats took their first lead since 2-0 at 52-51.

The game came down to free throws again as Karr was fouled by Frazier with 1.7 second to play in the game, Karr stepped to the line with two free throws and a chance to win the game in regulation, but as her first free throw rolled off the rim the Panthers perfect season would come down to overtime. Karr hit the second free throw and the teams headed to an extra four minutes of play all tied at 52-52.

Hayes hit one of two free throws to open the overtime, and O’Hara put the Wildcats back in the lead with a basket. Johnson hit a basket to give the lead back to Paola before Hanf hit a bucket to give the Panthers a three point lead. Frazier cut the lead to one with a basket and Smith put the Panthers back up by three with two free throws with under a minute to play in the overtime. The Wildcats again would not be denied, as O’Hara hit a basket and a free throw to tie the game with nine seconds to play in overtime and send the game to a second extra period.

Once again the Panthers threatened to put the game away, as two baskets by Hayes and three of four free throws by Johnson and Smith gave the Panthers a 66-53 lead about half way through the overtime. Again the Wildcats would not be denied, as Frazier hit a basket and one of two free throws, Shearer hit two free throws with a minute to play and O’Hara added one of two free throws and with just under thirty seconds to play, the Wildcats were back to within one at 66-65.

After Hanf was fouled and hit the first of two free throws with 15 seconds to play in the overtime, the Panther lead was two at 67-65. the Panthers would have to survive the final shot by O’Hara as time expired to secure the victory.

“You’ve got to feel good about this victory,” said Panthers Head Coach Stuart Ross. “Double overtime, senior night, on our floor, you’ve got to feel good about this win.”

Ross told his team they worked hard, hit free throws and got rebounds when they counted and made plays to win the game, but they still had work to do, and they would match up again with Louisburg in the second round of the sub-state tournament if both teams win their opening round games.

“We played this game out of character for us,” Ross said. “But we have a vision of bigger things, we’re a group of twelve, don’t look down on yourself, you all made contributions, this is us.

The Panthers will take the week off, before closing the regular season by traveling to Gardner next Friday night. The two teams met earlier in the season, with Paola coming away with a 55-50 overtime victory at Paola. The Wildcats take on St. James Academy on Tuesday before closing out the regular season against DeSoto on Senior Night next Friday.

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