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CHAMPAIGN — The upper-tier varsity girls basketball teams of the Sangamon Valley Conference have dominated small-school play in central Illinois, the top four entries combining to win 71 of 85 games heading into semifinal action of their own tournament.
Paxton-Buckley-Loda was among that quartet, but didn’t play up to its usual standards, losing two games in three days by a combined 33 points and finishing fourth in the SVC tourney.
St. Thomas More, the state’s top-ranked Class 2A team, won the event with a 66-38 triumph over Watseka Saturday at Parkland College.
In the third-place game, the Panthers dropped a 53-37 decision to St. Joseph-Ogden to fall to 16-6 overall. Head coach Clarissa Gross’ team trailed just 24-20 at halftime before the Spartans (17-6) pulled away behind 18 points by Bailey Trimble.
There were some positives to draw from the third-place game. Amanda Ypya scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, Andi Lemley had 11 points, 15 boards and Erin Lemley produced eight points and had 10 rebounds.
However, only five more points were produced by the rest of the roster. The Panthers made just 13 field goals overall and couldn’t fully recover from the 17-7 hole they dug themselves after one period.
“Andi Lemley has really been in a zone for us recently and I hope that continues. And we nearly had three people with double doubles,” said Gross. “But when you look at your scorebook and only two other girls scored, it isn’t enough. There are other girls capable of scoring — they’ve done it before — but now they have to do it. We’ve hit a bump in the road. It’s the first time all year we’ve lost back-to-back games all season long and the girls are frustrated. But you can let these two games define you or you can fight through it.”
If there’s any consolation, it’s that the Panthers will get another shot at the St. Joseph-Ogden in eight days. PBL’s rematch against the Spartans occurs Thursday, Jan. 31, in Paxton.
For five seniors, that will be their final home game as they close out the regular season. Before that, however, Gross’ team will get a chance to erase memories of an earlier SVC tourney defeat, traveling to Watseka for a 7:30 p.m. contest.
Last Thursday at Iroquois West, PBL was soundly defeated by the Warriors in semifinal play 52-35 despite 15 points by Ypya. The Panthers opened with seven first-period turnovers and had 23 in all as Watseka used balanced scoring to win its 20th game.
After Andi Lemley’s basket tied the score at 2-2, PBL turned the ball over on five consecutive possessions. The Warriors had five players score points while taking a 12-6 lead after one quarter.
Ypya tried to keep her team close with seven points at the half, but Watseka’s reserve center, Trisha Martin, took the spotlight.
She scored eight points before intermission as her team took a 25-14 advantage.
With 4:13 left in the third period, PBL got as close as it would get the rest of the way as Kirstin Schnabel hit a foul shot to narrow Watseka’s lead to 29-20. From there, however, the Warriors’ top player, Devin Curry, helped her team take control with six of her 16 points in a span of 2:48 as Watseka finished the third period ahead 40-26.
After a slow start, the Warriors made 60 percent of their field goals in the final three periods (15-of-25) and 49 percent overall.
Ypya was 6-for-15 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers, accounting for half of her team’s field goals overall. She added three assists, tied with Kandace Hofer for team honors.
Schnabel was solid off the bench with eight points and six rebounds and Andi Lemley pitched in with six points and grabbed eight boards to lead her team in that category.
But Gross knows that the balanced scoring that epitomized her team’s early success must return for the Panthers to finish the season well.
“There were too many girls standing around, too many girls not being aggressive,” said PBL’s coach. “You’ve got to attack the defense; you can’t let them control you. It’s frustrating, but every team finds itself in adversity. To me, the girls want to play Watseka again and give them a better game than what they did (last Thursday). But it’s going to be tougher because we’re on the road — we’re at their house — and anywhere they go, they’ve got more fans than anyone.”
Following the Watseka contest, the Panthers will travel to Hoopeston Area for a 12:30 p.m. non-conference game Saturday.
They will play a 7:30 p.m. Monday contest at GCMS in a battle of Ford County rivals.
Panthers seeded second at regionals
Although PBL’s week on the hardwood was a bit discouraging, what occurred off the court was an affirmation of the team’s work during the initial 10 weeks of the season.
The Panthers earned the second seed in the six-team Unity Class 2A Regional next month by virtue of winning 80 percent of their initial 20 games.
They’ll open at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, against either GCMS or third-seeded Unity. Those two schools play at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, in Tolono.
On the other side of the bracket is St. Thomas More, who hasn’t lost to a Class 2A team all season while dominating SVC opponents.
The Sabers will face either No. 4-seeded Tri-Valley or the fifth seed, Monticello, at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5. Tri-Valley and Monticello open regional play at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4.
The Unity Regional title game is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7.
The strength of the SVC showed in the state playoff seeding as Watseka was the top-seed in the five-team Hoopeston Area regional and St. Joseph-Ogden earned the No. 1 seed at the five-team Westville regional.
Meanwhile, SVC Class 1A schools were seeded highly in their regionals.
Iroquois West earned the second seed (out of five) in its own regional and Cissna Park was the No. 2 seed in the six-team Armstrong regional.