The Paola Panther Girls basketball team will fall one game short of their ultimate goal of a state championship as they fell to the undefeated Concordia High School Panthers 65-63 in double overtime in the first semi-final game in Salina on Friday.
In what may have been the state championship contest, given the fact that previously unbeaten and top ranked Holton fell to Topeka Hayden in their opening round game, the Panthers fought to the end, battling foul trouble, a poor team shooting night and watching senior point guard Taylor Smith spend much of the game on the bench fighting an illness, Panther Head Coach Stuart Ross was pleased that his team took the unbeaten Panthers to the very limit, before falling.
“We had multiple opportunities,” Ross said. “But it was in the kids hands, they had their chances and didn’t back down, that’s why you play these games.”
The Panthers, despite losing nearly every statistical battle, were in it to the end. In fact, Paola had a chance to end the game in regulation, as Kayla Offutt, who played a fantastic game in relief of Taylor Smith was fouled with under five seconds to play in the game on a missed basket by Concordia, and stepped to the free throw line with a one and one situation and the game tied at 50, Offutt could not convert the first shot, as it bounced around the rim before falling off, Megan Hayes grabbed the rebound and took as shot, but missed as she appeared to be fouled on the attempt. The officials did not whistle the foul and the teams were destined for overtime.
Paola fell behind early, but Rachel Hanf and Taelor Karr brought them back on the strength of a basket and a three pointer by Hanf and a trey by Karr to give Paola a four point lead at 8-4. Paola would match that four point lead later in the period following a basket by Hanf to make the score 15-11, but Concordia would fight back with a basket by Karly Buer and free throws by Paige Champlin and Buer to give Concordia a one point lead at 16-15.
Fouls would haunt Paola through the entire game, and it was painfully obvious after the first quarter that Paola was going to have trouble with fouls. Concordia went to the line 13 times in the first quarter and went into the bonus early in the quarter and were at the double bonus early in the second quarter. Luckily for Paola, Concordia found it difficult to hit those free throws, connecting only six times and missing seven. Paola on the other hand shot only one free throw in the period and never made it to the bonus during the first half.
Concordia jumped to a three point lead on a basket by Buer, but Hanf hit a three pointer and Hayes hit a free throw to give Paola a one point lead at 19-18, but Buer and Skye Balthazor hit baskets to give the lead back to Concordia at 22-19. Karr hit basket to cut the lead to one before Buer and Heather Bergmann hit back to back baskets to give Concordia their largest lead of the game at 26-21. Hanf hit two free throws and Karr nailed a three pointer and Paola had clawed back into a tie at 26-26. Buer hit two of four free throws to give Concordia a 28-26 lead, but Karr hit a three pointer at the buzzer to lift the Panthers to a 29-28 lead at the intermission.
Paola opened the largest lead for either team as the second half started on a three pointer by Offutt, but Bergman hit two free throws followed by a baskets by Buer, Alex Muff and Champlin to reverse the lead at 36-32 in favor of Concordia. Karr brought Paola back, hitting two baskets and one of two free throws to give Paola a 37-36 lead, but during that run by Karr, Paola took a blow, as Hanf picked up her fourth foul with 3:52 to play in the third period and had to go to the bench.
The game was tied on a free throw by Champlin and Concordia grabbed a two point lead as she hit a short basket with under two seconds to play in the third quarter.
Just as she had done to start the third quarter, Offutt hit a jumper to tie the game as the fourth quarter started, Buer hit a basket and Karr answered with two free throws, followed by an Allison Wood basket and Paola had a two point lead with just under four minutes to play in the game.
Buer hit another of her game high 32 point to tie the game, and Hanf gave the lead back to Paola with a jumper a shot time later. Champlin hit one of two free throws before Karr converted a old fashioned three point play and Paola was once again ahead by four at 48-44. Concordia tied the game on four consecutive free throws, two by Buer and two by Muff, but Rachel Schmidt hit a short jumper to give Paola a 50-48 lead. Buer tied the score again with 34.8 seconds to play on a driving shot from Buer.
With just over four seconds to play in the game, Offutt was fouled by Buer but was unable to hit the front end of the one and one and Hayes was unable to hit the shot on the rebound and the teams headed to overtime with the score tied at 50.
The teams traded points in the first overtime, as Schmidt opened the first extra period with a short jumper, Muff tied the score at 52 with two free throws and Karr and Champlin traded hitting single free throws to keep the game knotted at 53 each. Hayes had a chance to put Paola ahead again but was unable to convert on two free throw attempts before Muff and Karr exchanged baskets to make the score 55-55. Concordia held the ball for the last shot and missed with about seven seconds to play in the first overtime, Paola called time out to set up a play with 3.4 seconds to play, but were unable to convert and the teams went to a second extra period tied at 55.
Concordia opened the second overtime by taking a two point lead on a basket by Buer, but Karr and Hanf brought Paola back on a free throw and a basket to give Paola a 58-57 advantage. Buer and Schmidt traded free throw makes before Champlin tied the score at 60 by hitting the second of two free throw attempts.
Paola sent Allison Wood to the free throw line for two shots on a foul by Muff, but Wood was unable to convert either attempt, but Hanf knifed in to the land and grabbed the rebound on the second miss to give Paola a two point lead at 62-60.
Buer came up big in the final minute of the overtime, as she had done all game long, hitting a three point play to give Concordia a one point lead at 63-62. Karr tried to answer, but was only able to make one of two free throws to tie the game again at 63 all with 16.3 seconds to play. In a fitting end, to this game at least, Buer took the final shot for Concordia hitting a short, running jump shot with about four seconds to play. Paola called time out with under two seconds to play, and was able to get the ball into the hands of Karr, but Paola’s dreams of a state championship died as her last ditch half court shot bounced off the backboard and rim and Concordia had escaped with the narrowest of victories.
“There was a lot of talent on the floor today,” said Concordia Head Coach Derek Holmes. “They all played with a lot of heart.”
The Panthers fell victim to their own aggressive play, as they racked up 27 personal fouls, with Offutt, Hayes, and Johnson all going to the bench with five personals. In addition, Hanf played nearly the entire second half and both overtimes with four fouls, severely limiting her effectiveness on the defensive end of the floor. On a bright note, the Paola bench again make great contributions, including 15 points and eight rebounds. Paola was out rebounded by a wide margin on the day though, as Concordia racked up 50 rebounds to Paola’s 37. Karr led Paola in scoring with 29 points on the night, Hanf racked up her second double double of the tournament, following up yesterday’s 30 point effort with an 18 point 10 rebound game despite the limited playing time.
“Those were two great basketball teams on the floor today,” Ross said. “They are a really good team, we knew that coming in, they may be the best team too, we’ll find that out tomorrow.”
“I’m really proud of our team,” Ross continued. “Look at what they just did, the they took maybe the best team in the state to double overtime, that just shows the heart of this team.”