PBL girls basketball to play in IHSA Class 2A regional championship game after 58-36 win over Beecher in semifinals

BRAIDWOOD -- The Paxton-Buckley-Loda girls basketball team answered a wake-up call en route to its 58-36 win in the IHSA Class 2A Braidwood Reed-Custer Regional semifinals Wednesday over Beecher.
 
With Beecher's Yadi Barraza attempting two free throws with PBL leading 13-6 with 2:56 remaining in the first quarter, head coach Nathan Lawler subbed out his starters on the bench, putting reserves Valeree Johnson, Kirra Lantz, Madison Grohler, Baylee Cosgrove and Clarisa Wieneke.
 
“It's not that I was mad at the starters, but it was kind of a wake-up call (saying), 'You've better wake up and start defending, or you're going to be finding yourself by coach Lawler and (assistant) coach Lynn (Rubarts),'" Lawler said. "Defensively, we weren't as sharp as we needed to be."
 
“We didn't play as well as I would have liked in the first half. Defensively, it wasn't where I would have liked it, but we found a way to win. We've just got to tune it up for tomorrow." 
 
The sixth-seeded Bobcats reached the semifinals with a 51-29 win in the quarterfinals over Wilmington on Tuesday. The game was postponed from the previous Monday due to inclement weather, which moved the semifinals, which were supposed to be played Tuesday, to Wednesday.
 
The Panthers, therefore, entered Wednesday's semifinal game after a five-day layoff.
 
"Beecher's a tough first-round game," Lawler said. "They've got some scrappy, tough kids, and I think that kind of hurt us initially. We haven't seen that intensity for quite a few days, and it's hard to get that game-like experience in practice.”
 
The PBL bench players outscored Beecher 3-2 for the rest of the first quarter. 
 
Lantz made a 3-pointer with 2:06 left in the first quarter to extend PBL's lead to 16-6. In the final seconds of the quarter, Beecher's Kaylie Sippel stole the ball before scoring a basket to end the first quarter with a 16-8 deficit.
 
Giving the reserves some playing time in the regional semifinals might give PBL an advantage going into Thursday's regional championship game as the Panthers (20-7) face third-seeded Peotone at 7 p.m.
 
"We played a lot of girls, and it's going to be big for us tomorrow night to have that depth ready to go," Lawler said. “Kirra Lantz hit some shots. Valeree (Johnson) does a great job for us in there. Madison (Grohler) does an great job. They went in, and they played, and they maintained our lead. We played a little bit better after that. It was kind of a wake-up call.”
 
The Panthers' starters -- Liberty Jamison, Madi Peden, Ariana Gentzler, Mackenzie Bruns and Cassidi Nuckols -- were subbed in for the start of the second quarter, a quarter in which PBL's defense yielded only four points en route to going into halftime leading 25-12.
 
Peden made a couple of baskets to extend PBL's lead to 20-8. After Cirra Welch made a basket to decrease the Bobcats' deficit to 20-10, Nuckols drained a two-point bucket to make the score 22-10 with about three minutes left in the second quarter. 
 
A 3-pointer by Jamison extended PBL's lead to 25-10 before Margaret Landis made a two-point basket on Beecher's ensuing possession to make the score 25-12 in the final seconds of the second quarter.
 
“At this time of the year, it's about winning and advancing and finding a way to get it done," Lawler said. "Even when we had some troubles, we kept finding ways to score." 
 
***
Jamison's 3-pointer was one of four treys she made in the first half -- and one of five 3-point shots she drained throughout the game en route to finishing with 21 points.
 
“She's one of the best players in the area for a reason," Lawler said.
 
According to Lawler, Jamison surpassed the 1,000-point mark with her 21-point performance after starting the game with 996 career points.
 
“I'm just glad that's out of her head," Lawler said. "It's hard to get past that milestone in your career. She played well. She really got us going when we needed some help early on.”
 
Jamison made a 3-pointer on PBL's first possession of the game to give her team a 3-0. After steals by Nuckols and Peden on the defensive end, Jamison drained another trey with 6:47 left in the first quarter before Nuckols made a two-point basket to extend the Panthers' lead to 8-0.
 
Kaylie Sippel and Margaret Landis each made a basket to cut Beecher's deficit to 8-4. After Peden scored on an offensive-rebound putback to make the score 10-4, Barraza made a basket to cut the Bobcats' deficit to 10-6.
 
Jamison made a 3-pointer with 3:10 left in the first quarter before Barraza missed both of her free-throw opportunities with 2:56 remaining in the quarter.
 
***
A basket by Bruns extended PBL's lead to 27-12 early in the third quarter before Sippel made a 3-pointer to cut Beecher's deficit to 27-15.
 
From there, PBL went on a 9-0 run as baskets by Bruns and Jamison extended the Panthers' lead to 31-15 with 5:12 left in the third quarter. A free throw by Nuckols made the score 32-15 with 4:51 remaining in the quarter before Bruns scored on a driving layup and Jamison added a two-point basket to extend PBL's lead to 36-15.
 
Beecher came back with a 7-0 spurt, starting with a three-point play with 2:49 left in the third quarter. Two free throws by Kate Landis with 2:01 remaining in the quarter and a basket by Sippel -- who finished the game as the Bobcats' leading scorer with 14 points -- made the score 36-22.
 
Bruns then assisted Lantz on a basket that made the score 38-22 before Margaret Landis made a basket to cut the Bobcats' deficit to 38-24 as the third quarter came to an end.
 
After Peden made a basket to extend PBL's lead to 40-24 with 7:19 remaining in the game, baskets by Welch and Margaret Landis cut Beecher's deficit to 40-28.
 
From there, the Panthers went on a 6-0 run. After Lantz made a basket, a steal by Jamison led to a basket by Peden that made the score 44-28. 
 
Ariana Gentzler then followed her own miss with an offensive-rebound putback to extend PBL's lead to 46-28.
 
After a basket by Sippel made the score 46-30, Bruns made a two-point bucket and Jamison drained her fifth trey to extend the Panthers' lead to 51-30. 
 
A basket by Margaret Landis and two buckets by Welch cut Beecher's deficit to 51-36 with 3:18 left in the game before PBL ended the contest on a 7-0 run.
 
Grohler made a basket before a steal by Bruns led to a basket by Jamison that extended the Panthers' lead to 55-36. With 1:10 remaining, Nuckols made the front end of two free-throw opportunities to make the score 56-36.
 
After Nuckols missed the back end at the charity stripe, Bruns grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the putback to conclude the scoring at 58-36.
 
Bruns finished the game with 10 points, all of which were scored in the second half.
 
“I think Mackenzie's a stud," Lawler said. "She's a great ballhandler. She attacked the basket. She pulled some crazy moves out tonight. She could be one of the better girls to ever wear a Panther uniform. Her game just has to keep progressing. She showed that ability tonight. I think tomorrow could be a big stage for her.”
 
Peden also had 10 points while Lantz had seven points, Nuckols had six points and Gentzler and Grohler each added two points.
 
***
If PBL beats Peotone -- which beat Braidwood Reed-Custer 39-30 in its semifinal game as McKenna Evans led the Blue Devils with 16 points -- in Thursday's regional title game, the Panthers will win the regional championship for the first time since 2003.
 
“It's everything we've worked for since Oct. 31," Lawler said. "We put a lot of time in. We put in a lot of hard work just to get to this point. This is what these seniors want. They have the opportunity. I think we've put them in a spot to be successful. They've just got to go out, play, have fun and enjoy it, and whatever happens happens. They just can't leave any regrets out there.”
 
PBL 58, Beecher 36
BEE 8     4    12    12    -- 36
PBL 16    9    13    20    -- 58
Beecher (17-14)
Nicolle Kain 0-0-0, Kate Landis 0-2-2, Aubrey Barron 0-0-0, Kaylie Sippel 6-1-14, Yadi Barraza 1-0-2, Cierra Welch 4-0-8, Margaret Landis 5-0-10, Henderson 0-0-0, Jaela Kellum 0-0-0, Cappello 0-0-0. Totals 16-3-36.
PBL (20-7)
Liberty Jamison 8-0-21, Mallorie Ecker 0-0-0, Hannah Schwarz 0-0-0, Mackenzie Bruns 5-0-10, Madi Peden 5-0-10, Valeree Johnson 0-0-0, Ariana Gentzler 1-0-2, Kirra Lantz 3-0-7, Clarisa Wieneke 0-0-0, Baylee Cosgrove 0-0-0, Madison Grohler 1-0-2, Brooke Walder 0-0-0, Cassidi Nuckols 2-2-6. Totals 25-2-58.
3-pointers -- Beecher (Sippel). PBL 6 (Jamison 5, Lantz).

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