WATSEKA– After competing all week, the PBL Panthers' girls basketball team was crowned the SVC tournament champions on Saturday night. The team defeated the Watseka Lady Warriors with a score of 51-36.
"That was a tough environment to play in," said PBL coach Nathan Lawler.
"We know Watseka is always well-coached and they were prepared for us just like we were prepared for them. With all the different factors in the game, we were able to overcome that adversity and come out on top."
Lawler said he's happy his team was able to take on the challenge and are looking to grab themselves a regular-season conference title win, a feat not done in over 20 years.
"Right now for us, the bigger picture is we haven't won a regular-season conference title since '98," he said.
"When we won back then it was the first time in school's history and now we want to be the first team in 20 years to win that conference outright."
The team defeated St. Anne on Jan. 20 on the first night of the tournament, 52-29 and then moved on the defeat Iroquois West 51-24 in the semi-finals on Jan. 23.
PBL got themselves on the board first to start the championship game against Watseka with a basket from Hannah Schwarz to start the game. Those points were answered with a layup from Watseka's Kennedy McTaggart to tie up the score 2-2 with just over a minute into the game. PBL's Mackenzie Bruns was then fouled while scoring a layup, sending her to the free-throw line to make her extra point and give PBL the lead 5-2. Watseka's Kenzie Parsons came back to score with 4:26 on the clock making it a one-point game 5-4. But, a full-court lay-up from the Panthers' Baylee Cosgrove and yet another layup with just over three minutes opened it up to a five-point spread over Watseka 9-4. Schwarz put up a successful three-point attempt with 2:36 on the clock to extend the Panthers' lead 12-4. However, some quick offensive plays from Watseka allowed them to battle back and put the score at just a one-point game in the final minutes of the quarter, 14-13.
Watseka grabbed the lead in quarter two of the game with a layup from McTaggart to give them a one-point advantage, 15-14. However, a three-pointer from the Panthers' Kirra Lantz at the six-minute mark once again gave PBL the lead 17-15. The Warriors' Natalie Schroeder was fouled and sent to the line to make both of her free throw attempts and tie up the score 17-17, however PBL's Cosgrove was able to put up another two points and jump out ahead on the next possession. The Panthers' Lantz was able to put up another two points before the quarters' end, but Watseka hung on and was able to tie up the score and move into half time 21-21.
In quarter three, PBL was able to pull out to take a seven-point spread over Watseka to close out those minutes and move into the final quarter of play 35-28. The final quarter allowed PBL to find their groove and really pull out ahead to seal the deal, holding Watseka to just eight points while putting up 16 of their own and clench the victory and tournament championship 51-36.
The Panthers' Bruns was the top scorer during the game. Bruns found herself in foul trouble in the first half of the game but was able to come out in the second half and grab 19 points, 24 overall. Also contributing to the win was Baylee Cosgrove. Cosgrove put up eight points of her own, while Hannah Schwarz grabbed five.
Lawler said it was nice for his team to get the win after losing to Watseka in last year's tournament but are now looking to continue to play their game to finish off the season.
"We have a very brutal week next week–we play Unity on Monday who is probably the top team in the Champaign area right now and then turn around and see Watseka once again on Thursday," he said.
"This was all just preparation for the bigger picture at hand and right now that's regionals."
The PBL Panthers' girl's basketball team's record is now 18-6 on the season. Their next home game will be Feb. 3 against GCMS.