For the first time in nearly 10 years, the PBL Panthers' boys basketball team earned the title of SVC tournament champions on Feb. 8.
The team, who had not won the tournament since 2011, defeated last year's tournament champions and state final competitor, the Cissna Park Timberwolves with a final score of 56-44.
"It's the first time in a while that we have won the tournament," said senior stand out player, Trey VanWinkle.
"It feels really good to accomplish that, especially as seniors."
Starting off the game, Cissna Park's Penn Stoller put his team up on the board after tip-off. But, two successful three-point shots from VanWinkle quickly allowed the Panthers to jump out ahead 6-2. A layup from Cissna Park once again made it a two-point game at around the 5:30 mark which was answered with two-points by PBL's Colton Coy making the score 8-4. The two teams continued to go back and forth to run out the first quarter with PBL still maintaining that four-point lead over the Timberwolves to head into the second quarter of play 20-16.
In quarter two, Stoller was able to once again put the ball up for two-points for Cissna Park which was returned with a basket by Van Winkle making the score 22-18. VanWinkle was then fouled and sent to the line at the 6:27 mark to make one of his two free-throw attempts. The score remained 23-18 for about two minutes of play until Cissna Park's Ian Rogers managed to find an opening and put the ball up for two points, 23-20. PBL called their first time out of the game with just under four minutes left in the first half. When play resumed, the Panthers' Drake Schrodt managed to put the ball up for two points but baskets from the Timberwolves' Malakai Verkler and Rogers made it a one-point game, with PBL leading 25-24. With 1:54 remaining before half time, PBL's Sam Penicook was fouled and sent to the line to sink two free throws giving the Panthers a 27-24 lead. However, a much needed three-point shot at the 36-second mark from the Timberwolves' Bryce Sluis tied up the score at 27-27 where it remained to end the half.
With the score tied up and the game on the line at half time, PBL head coach Adam Schonauer said he told his team it was time to slow their gameplay down and take note of the Timberwolves' defensive abilities.
"We talked at half time and I said 'Cissna Park is good defensively. If you think you're just going to throw the ball to the wing then head to the basket and get a layup you are mistaken'," said Schonauer.
"We kept trying to go for the home run instead of just playing a little bit of small ball. But it was a good learning experience for our guys."
The Panthers' Schrodt was fouled at just under the seven-minute mark to start off the second half. Schrodt managed to sink both free throw attempts before VanWinkle was able to head down on a breakaway layup after a steal to put the score at 31-27. Another two-points from VanWinkle gave the Panthers a 33-27 lead over Cissna Park, who had yet to score in the second half. From there, the Panthers were able to jump out to a nine-point lead to end the quarter and move into the final quarter of the game with a score of 43-34.
A layup from PBL's Coy started the fourth quarter to give the Panthers an 11 point lead, 45-34. The Panthers were able to hang on to that 11 point lead to finish the game and defeat the Timberwolves 56-44 to seize the SVC championship.
"We thought that depth would definitely be a factor for us," said Schonauer.
"We wanted to try to get the ball moving up and down and they went on a run with us as well. Unfortunately, I think both teams were really sloppy and played too fast at times. But our guys did a better job there in the second half playing with a little bit more structure."
VanWinkle said his team's plan was to place their focus on defense and turn that into success offensively.
"We knew we just had to play hard on defense and that will open up the offense. If we get out and transition, we knew they didn't have as much depth as us so we knew we'd come out on top."
VanWinkle led the charge at the rim for the Panthers putting up 23 total points. Colton Coy followed with 18 points of his own while Schrodt grabbed five.
The championship victory gives the Panthers a record of 22-3 on the season. The team will have just three more games before seeing Cissna Park once again, this time on their home court.
"It will be a battle when we see them again in two weeks," said Schonauer.
"Those kids play hard. I knew it was going to be a dog fight tonight. The Cissna Park community is very proud of the basketball team they have now and their success. So we knew those kids were going to come out and lay it all on the line in a championship situation."
Schonauer said as a coach he feels it is the coach's responsibility to provide lasting experiences for the players on his team.
"We told our guys, 'This is what you signed up for. You didn't sign up to win games by 30 points. There is about five-seven games maybe all year where you play in a great atmosphere in a game that really matters for something and those are the things that you'll take away with you 10-15 years down the road'," he said.
"One thing we want to give our kids is a great overall experience playing basketball and that's going to be one of those games that will be down to the wire and back and forth and will be enjoyable."