PAXTON– With the SVC tournament right around the corner, the PBL Panthers girls' basketball team are gearing up to start off the tournament as the number one seed.
Last season, the team lost to Watseka in the championship game and are looking to take their revenge this year.
"We've never been the one seed since I took over the program," said PBL girls' head coach Nathan Lawler.
"We've always been the number two, so we've never had the target on our back. Our kids know that it's going to be a battle. Just because you're the one seed doesn't mean your going to win it all but we've won it as a two seed a couple of years ago so we're just going to show up and play our game. Hopefully, that puts us in a spot that where if we execute properly, we can win. We have a lot of quality players and coaches in our conference so it's going to be a battle every night."
In the two years that Lawler has been head coach, the team is 1-4 against Watseka. PBL defeated Watseka in the tournament his first season as coach, but ended up losing to them for the regular season conference title. Suffice it to say, a rivalry is brewing.
"I'd definitely say the rivalry is alive and well," said Lawler.
"If we are somehow lucky enough to play them in the SVC tournament it's going to be a dog fight. Both teams compete at another level against one another."
But first, the team will take on St. Anne in game one on Monday night. That game should be easy enough with the Cardinals sitting at a 1-24 record on the season comparatively to PBL's 15-6 record. From there, the team will take on the winner of the number four seed, Iroquois West or fifth seeded Clifton Central.
The Panthers recently defeated Iroquois West at home on Thursday night with a final score of 57-44.
The Panthers took charge starting off in the first quarter with a five point lead to close the first eight minutes 16-11. They moved on to maintain that lead in the second quarter of play picking up another 17 points to the Raiders' nine ending the half 33-20. 19 points were added by the Panthers to the Raiders' 12 in the third to close that quarter out leading by 20 points, 52-32. From there, the Panthers managed to clench their victory and end off with the final score of 57-44.
Lawler said he was glad his team was able to pull out the win against a conference team with the tournament beginning on Monday.
"It's always good to win a SVC game. I really respect Iroquois West. Their kids always play hard and they have some really talented young kids," he said.
"We got an opportunity for multiple kids to play tonight and get some meaningful game reps against quality competition, which is really critical with the conference tournament starting next week. So, overall I'm pretty happy and we did a nice job."
Senior Mackenzie Bruns led the team at the rim, picking up 14 points. "Mackenzie always does a nice job for us" said Lawler. "They ran a 1-2-2 zone tonight and she was able to get in the middle. That's one thing people don't always realize about Mackenzie because she scores all of her points fast, but she's also a very gifted passer and player in general and she was able to make some key passes."
Lawler also named some key players who helped contribute to the teams' win tonight. "Kirra Lantz had quite a few threes, I think she had 11 points. And then, Losa Suaava is a freshman post player who has been stepping up while Brooke Walder has been injured. She had eight points. But we also got a solid contribution from a lot of kids tonight and it was nice to see that."