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Panther girls take third at regional basketball

After persevering in a couple of nail-biters, the Powell High School girls’ basketball team delivered one of their best performances of the season to beat Lander 56-46 and claim third place in the Class 3A West regional tournament.

That sends the Lady Panthers (19-6 on the season) to the Class 3A State Tournament in Casper as the west’s No. 3 seed. It sets them up for an opening round match-up against Rawlins (21-4), the eastern side of the conference’s No. 2 seed, at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

To make it to state, the PHS girls prevailed in a 54-51 triple overtime win over Lander on Thursday night, fell 31-27 to Lyman on Friday, then rebounded by beating Jackson 38-27.

Star Valley (20-4) won the tournament, with Lyman (17-8) finishing second.

The Lady Panthers made their second regional tournament victory over Lander (11-14) a much easier one. They built up a 44-28 lead by the end of the third quarter and were able to cruise from there.

“Very deserving for these girls to finish regionals at home with a win,” said PHS head coach Scott McKenzie.

As an added bonus, all four PHS seniors — Kadi Cooley, Alyssa Hildebrand, BreaAnn Hollenbeck and Tess Mitchell — scored in what will be the girls’ final game in the Panther Gym.

“Way cool,” said McKenzie.

Mitchell erupted for 17 points — a career high — on a night where the Lady Panthers broke out for seven 3-pointers.

“Boy, did they make it rain,” said McKenzie.

Hildebrand scored 12, Megan Wagner eight, Shawnea Harrington seven and Cooley five, while Tori Sleep, Jada Swires and Jenni Ebersberger scored two points each and Hollenbeck one.

The Lady Panthers’ tournament-opening game against Lander on Thursday night was much more dramatic, with three bonus periods.

“That game was a true reflection of our season: not only with (how) we like to keep things close, but 10 girls contributed (points),” McKenzie said. “A true team win.”

Lander jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the first few minutes, but the Lady Panthers chipped away. It was 11-7 at the end of the opening quarter, and with just over four minutes gone in the second, a Tori Sleep basket gave Powell a 17-16 lead.

They’d enter the half in a 21-21 tie.

Lander’s Shanda Post scored a couple quick baskets to put her team up 25-21, but baskets from Kadi Cooley and Shawnea Harrington soon tied things back up.

Powell went up 35-30 early in fourth quarter, but it was short lived. The teams stayed within a point of one another for five minutes. Then, with just 46 seconds on the clock, Lander scored to make it 43-40.

Lander regained possession of the ball after a Lady Panther miss, but, with about 27 seconds remaining, traveled with the ball.

Given another chance, Harrington launched a 3-pointer that ricocheted off the backboard, bounced off the front of the rim, went back to the backboard, then hit the back-plate before finally falling through the hoop to ignite the crowd and tie the game with a little over 10 seconds remaining.

“An amazing shot by her (Harrington) with time running out. The basketball gods were definitely looking over us for that shot,” said McKenzie.

A few seconds later, Post drove into the lane to shoot and was fouled on the floor. That put her at the line with a one-and-one to potentially put the Lady Tigers up with just 6.6 remaining.

The shot bounced, then fell into the hands of Harrington. The game headed into overtime.

In the first bonus period, Lander scored with 21 seconds left in the period for a 47-45 lead, but missed the free throw for a 3-point play.

That would prove helpful when, with only about two seconds on the clock, Jenni Ebersberger found Brook Lensegrav for a tying layup. Lensegrav provided all four of the Lady Panthers’ points in the period, the others coming on a steal and breakaway.

In the second overtime, an Alyssa Hildebrand basket put Powell up 49-47 and it appeared that might be enough. However, with 30 seconds left in the period, Post hit a pull-up jumper to tie things up. When a Harrington attempt just bounced out as time expired, the game headed into a third bonus period.

The Lady Panthers made the third time a charm, however, outscoring the Lady Tigers 5-1 in triple overtime.

McKenzie praised his squad’s conditioning.

“I thought we were in better shape than Lander down the stretch. I thought that was a huge difference,” McKenzie said.

The Lady Panthers also went 5-for-9 from the free throw line while Lander went 8-for-20.

The 10 PHS scorers were led by 13 from Lensegrav, 10 from Harrington, seven from Hildebrand, six from Sleep, five from Mitchell, four each from Megan Wagner and Alex Good, two each from Cooley and Hollenbeck and one from Ebersberger.

On Friday night, Lyman got out to an 18-12 second quarter lead before the Lady Panthers stormed back with a 10-0 run. Two baskets from Ebersberger, one from Good, a 3-pointer from Lensegrav and a free throw from Ebersberger made it 22-18 at the half.

Powell expanded its lead to 27-20 in the third quarter, but became stymied by turnovers and missed shots. They failed to score through the final 10 minutes of the game.

“Not scoring in the fourth quarter killed us,” said McKenzie.

“We tried seven different sets in that quarter. We gave everyone a shot at the basket and we couldn’t make a thing,” he added.

Lyman overtook the Lady Panthers with about 1:28 remaining in the fourth quarter and finished with a 31-27 win.

Lensegrav scored eight points, Ebersberger five and Sleep and Wagner scored four each. Hildebrand, Harrington and Good scored two each.

Jackson (8-17) also led the Lady Panthers early, taking a 9-2 advantage in the first quarter and a 14-8 edge in the second quarter. However, the Powell girls again went on a run to close out the half leading 18-16.

McKenzie was proud of the girls for staying together.

“They held their composure, they kept their poise, they kept working,” he said.

The Lady Broncs and the Lady Panthers played to a 21-21 stalemate at the end of the third quarter. Jackson struck first in the fourth quarter to go up 23-21. But the Lady Panthers were determined to end this game differently than the one against Lyman.

Wagner sunk a free throw before Hildebrand delivered the biggest shot of the game: a 3-pointer with 5:08 remaining that flipped the game into a 25-23 Lady Panther advantage.

“It kind of broke the seal on the basket and the crowd was kind of like, ‘OK, here they come,’ and we did,” said McKenzie. “It was kind of nice to just go and play.”

About a minute later, Harrington added a basket, then Ebersberger added another, then Cooley and Lensegrav each sank two free throws. That made it 33-23 with 1:13 remaining and the Lady Panthers shut the door from there.

Harrington led with 10 points, followed by eight from Hildebrand, seven from Ebersberger, five from Sleep, two apiece from Good and Lensegrav and one from Mitchell.

McKenzie thanked PHS activities director Tim Wormald, Principal Jim Kuhn, all the regional tournament workers and the community for the successful tourney.

McKenzie said the girls’ game against Jackson on Saturday morning “was as full as if it was a marquee Friday night game and we just want to thank the community and parents and everyone for the support at regionals.”

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