The PHS girls (3-0) beat Newcastle 38-33 to start things off, came from behind in the final seconds to edge Rawlins 42-41 and finished off their weekend with a 44-35 over Wheatland, the two-time defending Class 3A state champions, on Saturday.
PHS head coach Scott McKenzie said the victory over Newcastle was a good first game in a good weekend for the Lady Panthers.
Powell went back and forth with Newcastle (2-1) throughout the Friday afternoon contest. After taking a four point 21-17 lead to the half, the Lady Panthers found themselves in a 27-all tie at the end of the third quarter.
However, “We hit our free throws in the fourth quarter and they did not,” McKenzie said. “That was the key difference for us and we were able to manage the ball late in the game.”
Alyssa Hildebrand led PHS with 15 points and seven rebounds. Jenni Ebersberger added six points, Tess Mitchell five, Kadi Cooley four, Brooke Lensegrav and Megan Wagner three each, while Alex Good contributed two points. Shawnae Harrington matched Hildebrand with seven rebounds.
On Saturday morning, Powell grabbed the lead early against Rawlins (2-1) — last year’s 3A runners-up and ranked No. 4 in Class 3A in the WyoPreps.com pre-season Coaches and Media poll.
PHS led Rawlins 13-8 in the opening minute of the second quarter after a pair of Tori Sleep free throws, but the Lady Outlaws came back.
With about three minutes left in the half, Rawlins grabbed an 18-16 lead and boosted it to 26-17 at the half.
It appeared at several points that Rawlins might run away with the game, but PHS always managed to hang around.
Early in the third quarter, Powell used a Mitchell basket and 3-pointer and a Hildebrand free throw to draw within 26-23.
But Rawlins responded with a 11-3 run into the opening minute of the fourth quarter to go up 37-26.
Facing their biggest deficit yet, Powell chipped away while shutting down Rawlins.
“We were able to get their two best players in foul trouble,” said McKenzie. “That was the absolute key.”
With just 1:19 remaining, PHS still trailed 41-36. That’s when Hildebrand hit a huge 3-pointer to draw the Lady Panthers within two.
After Rawlins missed the front end of a one-and-one, Sleep was fouled on the rebound. Her free didn’t drop, but Hildebrand nabbed the offensive rebound and drew a foul of her own from Rawlins.
Hildebrand nailed both free throws to knot things up at 41 with 41.2 ticks remaining.
Rawlins got another opportunity to re-take the lead with 29.9 seconds left, but missed two more free throws.
Wagner grabbed the defensive rebound and Hildebrand was fouled on the ensuing possession. She made one of two to give Powell a 42-41 lead with 6.8 seconds remaining. Rawlins missed its final shot to send PHS and its fans into a celebration.
“That was a big win for us,” said McKenzie.
Hildebrand scored the team’s last six points en route to a total of a team-best 15.
“Again that senior leadership comes through there,” said McKenzie, also praising the play of Cooley and Mitchell in the closing minutes.
“We were able to throw that press on and they (Rawlins) just folded,” McKenzie said.
Mitchell scored eight points, Wagner seven, Sleep six and Harrington and Ebersberger each scored three.
The standout statistic for the contest was on the boards, where Powell grabbed 38 rebounds to Rawlins’ roughly 25.
Sleep led the way with 10 rebounds — six offensive and four defensive.
“She was gigantic and we’re hoping Tori (Sleep) continues to keep being a monster on the boards,” McKenzie said. Wagner, meanwhile, grabbed nine rebounds, which the coach said was “huge for us.”
McKenzie described Saturday evening’s win over Wheatland (1-2) as “the Shawnae Harrington game.”
“She had an outstanding game,” the coach said.
Harrington scored 10 of the Lady Panthers’ 13 points in the first quarter en route to a 22-point performance.
“We’re really excited about that, because for us to be successful all season, we need a mix of posts and guards doing great things, and Shawnae just felt it,” McKenzie said.
Wheatland and Powell were locked in a 21-21 tie at half-time, but the Lady Panthers outscored the Lady Bulldogs 14-6 in the third period to get in control. They hung on in the fourth quarter, bolstered by Harrington’s three of four shooting from the free throw line.
“This was a good game for us because Wheatland is strong. They’re strong girls and it gave us a chance to see how strong we’re going to be at all positions and we were able to answer the call,” McKenzie said.
Powell got six points from Hildebrand, five from Cooley and Sleep, three from Lensegrav, two from Good and one from Mitchell.
“Our bench was key for us all weekend. We just flat wore Wheatland out because we could go deeper,” McKenzie said.
PHS played nine girls against Wheatland, 10 against Rawlins and all 11 varsity players in the Newcastle contest.
“One of the big things that we’re talking to the girls about is (that) each girl is going to have a role on the team, and we’re really pleased right now with how the girls are each finding their roles, accepting their roles and carrying out their roles,” said McKenzie. Players splitting time between varsity and junior varsity competition may have different roles on each team, and McKenzie said it’s been fun to watch the girls really buy into those positions.
The 11 girls on the varsity squad are led by four seniors: Cooley, Hildebrand, BreaAnn Hollenbeck and Mitchell.
“We have outstanding senior leadership this year out of those four senior girls,” McKenzie said.
Hollenbeck moved from a guard position to the post this year to help the team.
“I think that’s tremendous on her part to be willing to do that,” McKenzie said.
There are five juniors on the squad — Good, KaDee Harrison (currently battling a wrist injury), Harrington, Lensegrav and Sleep — plus sophomores Ebersberger and Wagner.
Good will be one of the smaller posts in Class 3A, “but that doesn’t matter,” said McKenzie. “She’ll get in there and battle. She has a knack of finding the basket to score.”
Sophomore Wagner has slid into the starting lineup and is a hard worker, McKenzie said.
“If you end up drawing her to guard in a game, you’re going to be tired at the end of the game, because she does not stop,” McKenzie said.
“Jenni (Ebersberger) is a great ball handler and Brooke (Lensegrav) and KaDee (Harrison) are two of the fastest girls I’ve ever coached — and they can guard just the best shooter for any team and just lock them down,” McKenzie said.
Lensegrav and Hildebrand teamed to hold Rawlins’ top scorer to seven points and Wheatland’s top three to two, while they joined with Cooley to give up only six points to Newcastle’s best shooter.
Another senior, Becky Dent, is on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury during the state volleyball tournament in late October.
“I would count her as the fifth senior. Truly, she’s still with us,” said McKenzie, adding, “She’s working hard on her rehab, and who knows.”
In the girls’ first three contests, the Lady Panthers went 11 of 51 from 3-point range, but McKenzie said that’s OK.
“Those are going to start to fall for us,” he said.
McKenzie took over this year from former Coach Luke Danforth.
“That’s our new style of ball. We’re putting the ball up, we’re playing faster,” McKenzie said.
He said the team has good things to work on
“We’ve established our baseline, and hopefully we continue to get better every week,” the coach said. They’ll get another measuring stick this weekend.
Powell hosts Jackson at 5:45 p.m. Friday and Star Valley at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday.