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MOMENCE – Ten years ago, a Paxton-Buckley-Loda girls basketball team coached by Don Shields won a regional title and forged a 24-7 record, the best mark by a girls team since Paxton and Buckley-Loda High Schools consolidated after the 1989-90 school year.
The 2012-13 edition coached by Clarissa Gross is more than halfway to that win total, having won 11 of its last 12 contests, including a 42-41 comeback win over Peotone in last Saturday’s championship game of the Momence Lady Redskins Holiday Tournament. All-Tourney picks Amanda Ypya and Erin Lemley tallied 10 points apiece and the Panthers moved to 13-3 overall with three wins over a 27-hour span.
Erin Lemley also had 10 rebounds, Kandace Hofer added eight points and Kristin Schnabel (who made all three of her field goal tries) and Kellyn Maynard had six points each. The Panthers also helped themselves out by making 11-of-17 foul shots, including 4-of-5 by Ypya, in overcoming a 23-19 halftime deficit.
Since 2002-03, only one other team has had a better start than Gross’ squad; the 2008-09 team coached by Travis Duley had posted wins in 14 of its initial 17 contests before finishing 21-6 overall. For Gross’ team to make it to 14-3, it’ll take a special effort as the third-rated Class 2A team in Illinois, St. Thomas More, visits the Panthers’ gym Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Both STM and the Panthers are 3-0 in Sangamon Valley Conference play, with the Sabers (15-1) fresh off their own tournament title (the State Farm Holiday Classic). Still, PBL’s work over 16 games has been impressive, especially on the defensive end.
After opening the season losing 53-42 to Villa Grove Nov. 12, the Panthers haven’t allowed 50 points in any game since. In fact, Gross’ team has given up more than 41 points only two other times while allowing less than 30 points on three occasions.
PBL reached the finals with its highest offensive output of the season in routing Tri-Point 79-46. Ypya made three 3-point baskets and posted her career high with 26 points.
She also grabbed seven rebounds, dished out five assists and had three steals while making all five of her foul shots.
The Panthers tallied 26 points in the second period alone to take a 44-24 lead into intermission and then added a 19-point fourth quarter. Two players — Kellyn Maynard and Schnabel — had career varsity highs of 12 points each, with Schnabel tying for team honors with seven boards. Andi Lemley added a dozen as well, and Jori Maynard contributed nine points as the Panthers made 32 field goals in all and hit 12-of-17 free throws.
In Friday’s opener for PBL, Gross’ team used a 24-5 third-period spurt to break open the contest en route to a 64-37 victory over St. Anne. Ypya scored 14 points for the Panthers on 7-for-11 field goal shooting and the senior grabbed eight rebounds and had five steals.
Andi Lemley produced 12 points and eight boards, Erin Lemley (11) and Jori Maynard (11) also had double-figure scoring totals and a strong defense limited St. Anne to just 16 second-half points while forcing 30 turnovers overall.
A pleasant surprise for Gross was the team’s season-best 18 points (in 30 attempts) from the free-throw line. After struggling to hit the 50 percent mark all season, the team’s 41-for-64 effort (64.6 percent) over the weekend was certainly reason for optimism.
PBL also outrebounded each of its opponents at Momence and the team has grabbed more than 100 more boards than their opponents so far, with Erin Lemley’s 8.4 rebound-per-game average the team’s best.
Winning the rebound battle with STM could be a tough task as the Sabers boast the most super-sized player PBL has seen all season — 6-foot-4 center Tori McCoy. One of the most highly-regarded freshmen in the state, McCoy has averaged 15 points and nearly 11 rebounds per game.
She scored 27 points in the Sabers’ 71-67 win over Bloomington Central Catholic in last Saturday’s small schools (Class A/AA) title game of the State Farm Holiday Classic in Bloomington.
Over four games at the tourney, McCoy averaged 14.3 points, tied with point guard Randa Harshbarger for second on her team. The team’s top scorer was Lexi Wallen, who tallied 57 points, good for 14.8 points per contest.
She had been averaging 16 points prior to last week’s tournament. Harshbarger was leading the area with six steals per game prior to last week and averages nearly 13 points while pacing her team in assists.
Following the STM contest, the Panthers will host Rantoul in a 6 p.m. non-conference contest as the front end of a girls/boys varsity double header at the high school gym. PBL will then host Clifton Central at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday (Jan. 10) before the Sangamon Valley Conference Tourney the following week.
JV takes second at Momence
PBL’s junior varsity team (8-3) split a pair of games Friday at the Lady Redskins event in Momence to finish second, beating Dwight 45-27 before losing to Peotone.
The Panthers will play a 7:30 p.m. contest against Rantoul in the junior high gym on Saturday following the boys’ JV team’s 6 p.m. game against the Eagles.