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February 28, 2013 8:28 am

Lady Panthers look to be the regional host with the most

Written by CJ Baker

Powell High School’s girls basketball team will have a bit of an unusual edge in this weekend’s Class 3A West regional tournament: they’ll be playing in their own gym.

For the first time since 2005, Powell is hosting the conference tournament.

“Playing on our home floor definitely will be an advantage,” said PHS head coach Scott McKenzie, adding, “We have great support from fans and the community and parents. And with the boys playing right after us, it’s just like a home game for both of us, in a sense.”

The Lady Panthers (16-5 overall, 9-5 in Class 3A West play) open their postseason tonight (Thursday) in a 7 p.m. battle with Lander (9-12, 6-8). Powell enters the bracket tourney as the No. 3 seed among the eight teams in the conference. Having won seven straight and 11 of their last 12 games, PHS brings a full head of steam into the postseason.

“We like the way we’re playing, we like our momentum and we hope to do well,” said McKenzie.

Powell trumped Lander Valley 51-41 at home on Jan. 25 and 47-38 on Feb. 16 in Lander, but it will be this third match-up that matters the most.

“We’ve been fortunate to beat them both times in the regular season,” said McKenzie.

He noted the Lady Tigers bring one of the best players in the league, Shanda Post. Post is averaging 16.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.2 steals per game, all the best or among the best in the conference.

The Lady Panthers, meanwhile, enter regionals with the conference’s second-best defense, giving up a scant 34.8 points per game. Only Star Valley, which is allowing 28.8 points a game, has been stingier.

Powell also brings a top conference scorer of its own in senior Alyssa Hildebrand, who averaged 10.3 points per game.

Other top PHS scorers on the season have been sophomore Jenni Ebersberger (7.9 points per game), junior Shawnea Harrington (6.1 points per game) and senior Tess Mitchell (4.9 points per game).

Sophomore Megan Wagner led the team in rebounding in the regular season, averaging 5.5 boards per contest. Harrington is averaging 4.9 rebounds per game, Hildebrand 4.2 and junior Tori Sleep is contributing an average of 4.1 rebounds in each contest.

To succeed at the regional basketball tournament and advance to next week’s Class 3A state tournament in Casper, there’s a simple rule to follow:

“You want to win two before you lose two,” said McKenzie. “That’s the magic formula.”

The top four teams who emerge from the bracket on Saturday are those that will earn a ticket to the Class 3A tournament in Casper on March 7 through 9.

While job one is to punch a ticket to the state tournament, job one-A may be to avoid finishing fourth. A fourth-place finish in 3A’s western region earns a play date with the east’s No. 1 seed. While anything can happen at this week’s eastern regional in Worland, undefeated powerhouse Douglas (23-0) is presumed to take that No. 1 seed.

But first things first.

Going into the regional tournament, McKenzie said he’s reminded his squad of the experience they’ve had with pressure this season: 17 of the team’s 21 games have been decided by 10 points or less; eight games by 5 points or less.

Said McKenzie of his advice: “You’ve been in so many close games that nothing should rattle you this weekend.”

After facing Lander — depending on how that goes — PHS’ girls will take on either the winner or loser of the Lyman (15-7 overall, 11-3 in 3A West) / Pinedale (3-19, 2-12) game. A full bracket is available at www.whsaa.org.

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