PBL girls basketball ends 2017-18 season with loss in regional title game to Peotone

BRAIDWOOD -- The Paxton-Buckley-Loda girls basketball team ended its 2017-18 season with a 43-36 loss Thursday to Peotone in the IHSA Class 2A Braidwood Reed-Custer championship game.
“It's hard to end the season that way," PBL head coach Nathan Lawler said. "I'm not going to sit here hanging my head.”
The Panthers' win in the regional semifinals the previous Wednesday was the team's 20th. It was the first time PBL reached the 20-win mark since 2012-13.
The Panthers (20-8) also won the SVC Tournament championship the previous January for the first time since 1998.
“We ought to be proud of those things," Lawler said.
Last year, Peotone won the CICS/Ellison Regional title en route to an appearance in the Lisle Sectional finals. Meanwhile, after losing in a regional title game for the second straight year, PBL is still searching for its first regional championship since 2003.
“They have the experience," Lawler said. "They've been here before. Unfortunately, over the last two years, we've lost in (the regional title game). It's just a little bit different when you've won it and you've been there.”
The Panthers started the game with a 9-2 run.
After Mae Graffeo scored a basket on Peotone's first possession, Ariana Gentzler tied the game with a bucket on PBL's ensuing possession.
Madi Peden then made a basket to give PBL the lead before Cassidi Nuckols scored on an offensive rebound. Another offensive rebound by Gentzler resulted in her making a free throw to extend the Panthers' lead to 7-2 with 4:57 left in the first quarter.
Mackenzie Bruns then stole the ball. After she missed a fastbreak layup, Gentzler rebounded it and scored on a putback to make the score 9-2.
Peotone (23-7) rallied back with a 6-0 run as Mae Graffeo and McKenna Evans each scored a basket before Josie Graffeo assisted Mae Graffeo on another bucket.
Liberty Jamison ended the run with a 3-pointer that extended PBL's lead to 12-8 with 2:12 left in the first quarter. After Yatzari Jauregui scored a basket for Peotone, Bruns scored on an offensive-rebound putback to make the score 14-10 as the first quarter came to an end.
In the second quarter, both teams combined to score only eight points as PBL went into halftime leading 17-15.
“I thought, defensively, we played well," Lawler said.
Bruns assisted Gentzler on a basket that extended PBL's lead to 16-10 with 6:07 left in the second quarter before a Mae Graffeo bucket made the score 16-12 with 5:29 remaining in the quarter.
From there, both teams would be held scoreless for nearly four minutes before a transition layup by Courtney Burks cut Peotone's deficit to 16-14 with 1:38 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers' defense forced Morgan Ashline to travel with 4:01 remaining in the second quarter, but PBL was called for an over-and-back violation for the second time of the first half with 2:43 left in the second quarter.
Evans traveled on Peotone's next possession, and with 1:13 remaining in the second quarter, Mae Graffeo slipped as the ball went out of bounds off her, giving PBL a possession on which Valeree Johnson made a free throw with 58.9 seconds left in the quarter to extend PBL's lead to 17-14.
With 47.3 seconds remaining in the first half, Mae Graffeo made a foul shot to make the score 17-15.
Mae Graffeo was called for an offensive foul with 22 seconds left in the half, but a heave by PBL's Baylee Cosgrove was missed in the final seconds.
In the third quarter, PBL was held to five points as Peotone built a 27-22 lead.
Both teams were held scoreless for the first two minutes and 17 seconds of the quarter before Josie Graffeo made a game-tying basket.
With 4:52 left in the third quarter, Ashline made a basket while getting fouled by Nuckols to give Peotone a 19-17 lead.
Jamison made a 3-pointer with 4:29 left in the third quarter as PBL regained the lead at 20-19. Eight seconds later, Nuckols drew a charging foul on Burks.
With 3:35, PBL is called for another over-and-back violation, but Peotone gave the ball back via an offensive foul.
Thirty seconds later, Bruns was called for a traveling violation.
Mae Graffeo made a basket to give Peotone a 21-20 lead with 2:20 left in the third quarter. Jamison scored on a driving layup with 1:56 remaining in the quarter to give PBL a 22-21, but the Panthers would then be held scoreless for the rest of the quarter.
Maggie Walsh scored to give Peotone a 23-22 lead with 1:40 left in the third quarter. Although Walsh was called for a traveling violation with 1:10 remaining in the quarter, the Blue Devils got the ball back as Jamison missed a 3-pointer with 32.5 seconds left in the third quarter.
After a basket by Mae Graffeo extended Peotone's lead to 25-22 with 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Josie Graffeo stole the ball and raced toward a fastbreak layup that made the score 27-22 in the final seconds of the quarter.
“The ball didn't bounce our way a few times," Lawler said. "It's playoff basketball – we had a shot. You've got to give it to Peotone. They played well. They've got a good group of girls. They played hard.”
Bruns stole the ball on Peotone's first possession of the fourth quarter and raced toward a fastbreak-layup attempt, on which she was fouled by Jauregui. Bruns made both free throw attempts to cut PBL's deficit to 27-24 with 7:44 left in the game.
A basket by Gentzler made the score 27-26 with 7:15 left in the third quarter before Mae Graffeo scored on an offensive-rebound putback to extend Peotone's lead to 29-26.
Burks then stole the ball and assisted Jauregui on a fastbreak layup that extended the Blue Devils' advantage to 31-26. Another steal led to two misses at the charity stripe by Burks with 6:03 remaining.
After drawing Mae Graffeo's third foul with 5:30 left in the game, Bruns made a free throw to cut PBL's deficit to 31-27. Gentzler drew Jauregui's third foul with 4:28 remaining before making two foul shots to cut the Panthers' deficit to 31-29.
Eleven seconds later, however, Burks drained a 3-pointer. With 4:09 remaining, the ball went out of bounds as a pass slipped through Peden's hands. 
The two teams would then exchange turnovers as Bruns was called for traveling on an offensive rebound with 3:12 left in the game before a pass from Mae Graffeo to Evans went out of bounds with 3:06 left in the game. 
Nuckols recorded a steal with 2:36 left in the game, but 21 seconds later, Josie Graffeo drew Bruns' third foul and made two free throws to extend Peotone's lead to 36-29. 
With about two mintues remaining, Bruns was called for traveling. With 1:59 left in the game, Josie Graffeo drew Bruns' fourth foul.
Josie Graffeo missed the front end of her ensuing 1-and-1 opportunity at the charity stripe, but she grabbed her own offensive rebound. 
With 1:46 remaining, the Blue Devils were called for a five-second violation, giving PBL the ball back. Thirteen seconds later, Peden drained a 3-pointer to cut PBL's deficit to 36-32.
After Evans threw the ball out of bounds to give the Panthers another possession with 1:18 left in the game, Peden was fouled by Jauregui on a 3-point shot attempt.
Peden made two of her three ensuing shot attempts from the charity stripe to cut the Panthers' deficit to 36-34 with 1:11 left in the game.
Ten seconds later, Burks made two free throws to extend Peotone's lead to 38-34. After Bruns attempted a shot that was blocked by Evans, Bruns fouled Evans with 46.5 seconds remaining.
Evans made a free throw to extend the Blue Devils' lead to 39-34. Bruns had another shot in the lane blocked by Josie Graffeo on PBL's ensuing possession.
With 38.5 seconds left, Jauregui missed two free throws, but she went back to the line less than five seconds later after Peotone gained possession via an offensive rebound.
After Jauregui missed two more foul shots with 33.8 seconds remaining, Josie Graffeo grabbed another offensive rebound for Peotone. 
Jauregui then drew Jamison's fourth foul and made two free throws with 28.3 seconds remaining to extend the Blue Devils' lead to 41-34.
“I think the difference-maker was that we gave up a lot of second-chance buckets," Lawler said. "I thought when we went zone, they missed a lot of shots. They really didn't score off it, but we just got beat on offensive rebounds. 
"They just out-hustled us a little bit more, and you've got to give that up to them. They've won 23 games for a reason.”
After Gentzler scored on an offensive-rebound putback to cut PBL's deficit to 41-36, Burks drew Peden's fourth foul and made two free throws to conclude the scoring at 43-36 with 13.7 seconds remaining.
Gentzler finished the game leading PBL in scoring with 13 points while Jamison added eight points, Nuckols had two points and Johnson had one point.
Those four -- along with Madison Grohler, who will shoot in the sectional round of the IHSA Class 2A Three-Point Showdown at Iroquois West next Thursday -- will graduate before next season.
“I want to thank our five seniors for everything they've done," Lawler said. “The one thing I truly enjoy about those girls is they've bought in. They've done everything that was asked of them, whether they were getting more playing time or less playing time. 
"I told them at the end that I really want to win a regional championship, but I'd rather you become better people and better students from playing the game of basketball. Winning is fun, but sports are meant to develop you as a person. Hopefully, from our program, those three words – family, pride and toughness – made them better people.”
Peden, who scored seven points against Peotone, will return next season for her senior year while Bruns, who had five points, will return for her junior season. Baylee Cosgrove, who saw playing time as well against Peotone, will return for her sophomore year.
“This is going to hurt for the next 12 months, and we've got to find a way – hopefully next year – to get back to this point and compete," Lawler said. “We've got some talent coming back.”
“Brooke Walder will be ready. Clarisa (Wieneke's) going to give us some minutes, so we'll find a way to compete. I think we've got a good group. Year one is always hard. It's not perfect, so I think they now understand the system, and now I get a full summer. We've just got to develop ourselves offensively, and we'll get there.”
Peotone 43, PBL 36
PEO 10    5   12   16     -- 43 
PBL 14    3    5    14     -- 36
Peotone (23-7)
Courtney Burks 2-4-9, Yatzari Jauregui 2-2-6, Josie Graffeo 2-2-6, McKenna Evans 1-1-3, Maggie Walsh 1-0-2, Mae Graffeo 7-1-15, Morgan Ashline 1-0-2. Totals 16-10-43.
PBL (20-8)
Liberty Jamison 3-0-8, Mackenzie Bruns 1-3-5, Madi Peden 2-2-7, Valeree Johnson 0-1-1, Ariana Gentzler 5-3-13, Baylee Cosgrove 0-0-0, Madison Grohler 0-0-0, Cassidi Nuckols 1-0-2. Totals 12-9-36.
3-pointers -- Peotone (Burks). PBL 3 (Jamison 2, Peden). 


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