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PAXTON – Above and behind the team benches at PBL Junior High School gymnasium stand banners for the athletic programs’ individual sports.
Prior to Wednesday’s Paxton Sectional game, the PBL girls’ basketball team did not have anything listed under the sectional champion or state categories for the seventh-grade program. The only sectional championship/state appearance listed on the banner is from the eighth-grade team of 2010.
The school will need to make a couple of additions to the banner after the Panthers’ seventh-graders defeated Watseka 29-26 in Wednesday’s Paxton Sectional game over Watseka Glenn Raymond.
“We’re pretty excited about that,” PBL head coach Stacy Johnson said. “We’ll have a regional, a sectional, and now we’ll have a state (mention). We’ll have all three of them up there, so that’s exciting. Now we’ll have something up there for the state (appearance). This has been our goal all season. This was our goal. You have a goal to win a regional, to win a sectional and to go to state, and that’s been our goal.”
After taking an 18-6 halftime lead, Glenn Raymond stormed back with a 9-4 third quarter and got to within three (25-22) with 3:58 left. After both teams went scoreless for nearly two minutes, the Utes Sydney Smith hit a jump shot to put her team one point behind PBL with 1:26 remaining.
The Panthers (20-3) iced the hot streak with a 4-2 run, including the next four points, the rest of the way.
Following a free throw from Liberty Jamison, PBL led 26-24. On Glenn Raymond’s next possession, it had multiple missed shots in the lane before a timeout was called with 43 seconds left. Emma Fleming and Valeree Johnson teamed up to steal the ball from the Utes, leading to a shot that Jamison missed. Sidney Schwarz rebounded Jamison’s missed shot and scored on the putback to make it a two-possession game at 28-24.
Jamison and Fleming stole the ball on Glenn Raymond’s next possession, leading to a made free throw from Fleming. Summer Cramer made a shot before the buzzer, but it was merely arbitrary, as the Panthers survived the Utes’ run.
“Hat’s off to Watseka – wow,” Stacy Johnson said. “They battled all the way to the end, and a lot of those girls are sixth graders. They’re good players. That third quarter was huge for them. I told the girls you go out to win each quarter. You win the first quarter, and then you win the second quarter. It kind of fell apart in the third quarter, but we didn’t give up in the fourth quarter. They kept their composure. I don’t know – they just like these close games. I don’t like them so well, but they like them close. I thought they did a good job, though.”
The Panthers took control early in the game with a shutout in the first quarter, as Fleming and Valeree Johnson each scored four points and Jamison added two more to give a PBL a 10-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
“It was another nod to the defense,” Johnson said. “We switched it up a little bit and put the press off a little bit. They’ve just got two quick guards. You’ve got to get back and you’ve got to defend. Although we’ve got quick guards too, their two guards are very quick and they can handle the basketball. I thought we did a good job of containing them and keeping them under control. We could have done a better job boxing out, but they held on to the end.”
Katelyn Bauer got Glenn Raymond on the scoreboard and cut PBL’s lead to 10-2. After a scoreless minute and a half, Jamison scored with less than 3:30 remaining in the first half, the start of an 6-2 run that ended on a couple of free throws from Jamison and extended the Panthers’ lead to 16-4.
Jamison finished the second quarter with four points while Cassidi Nuckols and Madison Grohler each scored a two-point basket.
Valeree Johnson and Fleming each had two points in the third quarter while Schwarz and Jamison each led PBL’s fourth-quarter scoring with three points.
At the game’s end, six different players contributed to PBL’s final scoring total of 29.
Jamison led the Panthers with nine points while Fleming contributed seven points. Valeree Johnson finished the game with six points, all of which were scored in the first half.
Schwarz tallied all three of her points in the fourth quarter while Grohler and Nuckols each added two points.
“That’s what we like,” Stacy Johnson said. “We like the balanced scoring. It makes you a well-rounded team.”
For Glenn Raymond, Cramer was the leading scorer with 12 points.
The Panthers will play in the first round of the state tournament at 2:39 p.m. Saturday at Central A&M Middle School in Assumption. A win puts PBL in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. later that day.
If PBL wins the semifinal game, it will participate in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6. If the Panthers advance to the semifinals and lose, they will play in the third-place game prior at 6 p.m. prior to the title match.
Johnson said she would like to leave Assumption with a top-four finish, which would earn the 2012 seventh-grade team its own banner behind one of the junior high gymnasium’s baskets.
“We’d like to have one of those kinds of signs,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can get ourselves one of those banners up there.”