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PAXTON – It was finals week for Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School.
It would have therefore been natural for some on the Panthers’ varsity basketball team to have their minds elsewhere during Wednesday’s non-conference game against visiting Shiloh.
However, seniors Erin Lemley and Kandace Hofer didn’t have to take any finals because of their strong overall grade-point averages and high standardized test scores. Clearly, their minds were on the game at hand as the two combined for 27 points in a decisive 50-39 victory.
Lemley tallied four points and grabbed four rebounds in the first period and was the lone bright spot as her team trailed 10-7. She finished with 10 points before fouling out with 2:33 left in the contest.
Hofer took over in the second period, scoring 13 of her game-high 17 points, making all five of her shots, including three 3-point baskets. Add to that a strong defense that forced 21 turnovers and head coach Clarissa Gross’ team headed towards the holiday break with a little peace of mind and a 10-3 overall record.
“One of the things I said before the tip-off was that we look to shoot first, but sometimes Kandace (Hofer) doesn’t look for her shot,” Gross said in recalling Hofer’s season-high point total. “But the first time she got the ball she took this beautiful shot and she was on and we made adjustments to continue to get her the ball. We also did a great job of spreading the floor well, which made the middle wide open for our post players. But what I love about this team was that Kandace had a hot night and everyone was so supportive of her. Not all teams have that kind of attitude.”
Shiloh entered Wednesday’s contest with an 11-1 mark, using an offense that relied heavily on 3-point shooting and the inside play of center Lauren Moses. Moses managed to grab 17 rebounds, but the defense of Erin and Andi Lemley and Sara Kennedy limited the 6-footer to only four points.
When the Raiders launched outside shots, most were contested and the visitors made just four of their 23 attempts from the 3-point line (17 percent) and finished 11 for 43 from the field for 26 percent. Shelby Smith and Morgan Wood had nine points each to lead Shiloh, which shot 22 free throws but made only 11.
PBL was at its best defensively early in the second quarter. Trailing 12-9, the Panthers forced Shiloh into four turnovers and seven misses from the field over a span of 4:51 while outscoring the Raiders 15-1. Hofer did most of the damage offensively, hitting a jump shot, two treys and a driving shot from seven feet over two minutes.
Point guard Amanda Ypya did her part in running the show, dishing off four assists in the first half, while reserve Janel Flanigan made the most of her six first-half minutes with a steal and six boards as PBL led at the half 25-18. Kirstin Schnabel also gave Gross quality minutes before the intermission, scoring two points to cap a 10-0 run and adding a steal defensively.
The beginning of the second half featured the Lemley sisters, who combined for the first five points in the opening 90 seconds of action. Ypya added a trey and Kennedy converted a three-point play as the Panthers opened the second half with 11 consecutive points to lead 36-18 at the 4:34 mark of the third quarter.
To Shiloh’s credit, the Raiders never quit, paring an 18-point deficit to seven (44-37) with 2:33 left in the game on a pair of Smith foul shots. But Ypya dished to Schnabel for an inside basket at the 2:17 mark and then fed Hofer for a trey with 1:48 remaining to ice the contest.
Ypya had six assists for the game while Hofer added four more as the Panthers assisted on 11 of their 20 field goals while converting rebounds on three others. The team’s four 3-point baskets (a season high) came on just six attempts, which made it a little easier to overcome a 5-for-12 foul-shooting effort.
Defensively, PBL players produced seven steals with Kellyn Maynard and Ypya converting steals into lay-ups on consecutive plays in the second half. The Panthers also outrebounded Shiloh 40-36 as Andi Lemley finished with a team-high 10 rebounds and sister Erin and Flanigan had seven apiece.
“Erin has been getting over this virus she’d had, but I felt she did a great job. and Andi had 10 rebounds and led our team,” said Gross about the Lemley sisters. “Another highlight was Sara Kennedy, who gave us some quality minutes and three points. And Janel (Flanigan) gave us a lot of energy and Kirstin (Schnabel) gave us some good minutes.”
PBL next plays at 6:30 p.m. Friday against St. Anne in the first round of the eight-team Momence Tourney. The Panthers will play twice Saturday, with the championship game set for 8 p.m. that evening.
The Panthers’ sophomore team lost Wednesday’s game 49-18 to Shiloh to fall to a record of 7-2.
They will face Dwight in the first round of the four-team Momence Holiday Sophomore Tournament at 10 a.m. Friday. The third-place and championship games will take place Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., respectively.