INDEPENDENCE – The Panthers girls basketball team has punched their ticket to the state playoffs after securing a final 63-45 victory against the Dallas Dragons to end their regular season.
It was a bumpy ride for the Panthers (14-10 overall, 9-7 Mid-Willamette Conference) this season with the loss of one of their key point guards who fell to illness, but in the last few weeks the girls have shown that they deserve to go to playoffs.
“I think that, you know, it’s a great group of girls. I love coaching these girls, and you know, win or lose, they’re gonna work hard every day,” said head coach Julie McDonald. “We’ve come through adversity with not having Meagan (Mendazona), of course, but I think we’re at the point where we’re understanding how to play without her and how to play together and play hard for each other.”
With the stands packed, the Panthers came out with energy from tipoff, moving the ball down the court to capitalize on scoring opportunities for a 26-10 lead in the first quarter.
Senior Elizabeth Chavez led for the night with 19 points and seven rebounds, and senior Annika Riddell followed with 12 points and four rebounds.
“I wouldn’t say it was our best game, but it was definitely fun,” said Chavez. “I think we came out with a lot of energy.”
“Yeah we came out with fire,” echoed Riddell. “And to play rivals and win tonight.”
“And the atmosphere was really awesome, just wish we could have played a little bit better, but other than that it was good and it was a good game to end on, being seniors, and playing the last game here in the panther pit,” Chavez said.
At halftime, the Panthers were ahead 34-16, but in the third quarter, they were outscored 15-14 by the Dragons (3-19 overall, 2-12 MWC), who came out of the locker room with a lot more intensity. Still, the Panthers battled and scored another 15 points in the fourth quarter to secure their win.
“I was pleased with how it went,” McDonald said. “It’s hard to have a pretty smooth game when you’re trying to get a lot of people in. I have seven seniors, and first quarter I only played the seniors, and that’s not the normal rotation, and anytime you disrupt that a little bit, it changes the flow. And it’s always a great time to play Dallas.”
Now that the regular season is over, the girls are prepping for their first playoff game on March 2. For the seniors, it’s strange to think that this is their last go at high school basketball.
“It’s crazy; it went by so fast,” said Chavez.
“Lighting fast,” Riddell added.
At press time, their playoff opponent was unknown, but Chavez and Riddell are ready for whoever comes their way.
“We’re really excited,” Chavez said. “Wherever we play, we’ll l show up and be ready.”