Panthers find a groove

Senior Kaleb Kantola looks for a teammate to pass the ball to during their match-up against Lebanon on Jan. 11.

Photo by Jennifer Biberston
Senior Kaleb Kantola looks for a teammate to pass the ball to during their match-up against Lebanon on Jan. 11.

INDEPENDENCE – The Panthers found their groove this week with two victories after losing the last four games.

Tuesday, they battled against North Salem (4-9 overall, 2-3 Mid-Willamette Conference) and won 50-42.

On Friday, the Lebanon Warriors (3-8 overall, 0-5 MWC) didn’t stand a chance with the Panthers’ eruptive offense, which allowed the Panthers to notch another win on the board for themselves and walk away with a 56-39 victory.

From tipoff to half time, the Panthers (5-8 overall, 3-2 MWC) played like the court was theirs, something the team hasn’t been consistent with so far this season, taking possession of the ball from tipoff.

Lebanon slipped through and scored first, but that was followed up with a layup from senior Eli Cooper-Levitt, and from that point on until halftime, Lebanon trailed father and farther behind.

They were up 21-5 at the end of the first quarter, and led 33-14 heading into the locker room at halftime.

“(It was) pretty good, we came out early and got a lead on the team, so, that was good. All that energy,” said senior Brendan Lesmeister.

Something changed after half time.

They opened the third quarter lacking the energy they had started with and gave up a 14-9 run, where Lebanon knocked out several good looks at the basket to bring their score up.

“Once we get up by a lot we kind of settle a little bit,” Lesmeister said. “We just have to stay on them and build up on that lead.”

We just kind of got ahead of ourselves,” freshman Brooks Ferguson said, agreeing with Lesmeister. “We really didn’t start out too hot. (But) that gives us a lot of momentum for the rest of the game.”

The score was 42-29 going into the final stretch. From there, the Panthers got a better handle on passing and scored 14 more points to nab the win.

“I think today was a good indication of how our season is going,” said head coach Tim Kreta. “We have our ups and our downs, and I was really proud of the way the guys were able to get their composure back, so to speak, in the second half. When you’re not used to playing well for long periods of time, it gets exciting and then you think it’s just going to keep happening.”

Lesmeister led with 21 points, Cooper-Levitt added 10 and Ferguson contributed nine.

Kreta said he wants to see the team continue to play with the energy they had for most of this game for the rest of the season.

“These guys have some potential to keep playing like that,” he said. “It’s not always the prettiest basketball, but we’re getting it done, and our guys are in the right spots, they just need to get that success flowing. They allowed me to coach them (tonight), which is huge because that’s a huge step. Brenden (Lesmeister) is continuing to do his job, everybody knows the ball’s going to go through him, and other guys are stepping up and hitting timely shots.”

The Panthers traveled to South Albany on Tuesday after press time.

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