The PHS girls opened the state tourney with a 48-42 win over Torrington before losing 37-26 in the 3A semifinals to Douglas, the eventual champion.
The squad then closed out their year with a convincing 46-33 win over Newcastle. McKenzie called the final game “just a true, last representation of this team that we had this year — just classy, gritty girls, playing hard and as a family.”
Newcastle (14-15 and the No. 4 seed from Class 3A East) jumped out to a 4-0 advantage early in the Saturday morning game. The Powell girls responded with a 12-0 run that stretched into the second quarter and gave the team the lead for good. PHS took a 21-13 advantage to the half.
A Newcastle run late in the third quarter made it a three-point game at 26-23 and the Lady Panthers missed three straight chances to create some separation at the free throw line. However, on the third miss, senior Tori Sleep grabbed the offensive rebound and found freshman Kalina Smith, who drew another Lady Dogie foul.
Smith proceeded to drain both attempts. Following a Smith block on the other end, PHS sophomore Breanna Donarski came up with a basket to make it 30-23 going into the final period.
Newcastle never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“They made a spurt and we answered,” said McKenzie.
After starting just 4 of 11 from the free throw line, the Lady Panthers slammed the door on the Lady Dogies by making 13 of their last 14 attempts from the line.
Up 14 points with roughly a minute and a half to play, McKenzie brought his five seniors — Shawnea Harrington, KaDee Harrison, Brooke Lensegrav, Sleep and Jada Swires — into the game to share one last time on the court. They exited together about 20 seconds later to recognition from the PHS fans in Casper and their coach.
McKenzie said he kept his emotions together until reaching the locker room and addressing the team.
“When you’ve been with those girls for 18 weeks, and everything you go through on a journey, it’s hard to wrap up,” McKenzie said.
Smith led the team with 13 points, with junior Jenni Ebersberger scoring 12. Donarski added nine points, Sleep four (with a team-best six rebounds), Lensegrav three points, junior Megan Wagner and sophomore Danna Hanks two each and Harrington one.
PHS shot 13 of 46 from the floor and out-rebounded Newcastle 45-35, according to stats from CyberSportsUSA.
McKenzie said the team had talked about bouncing back from Friday’s semifinal loss to Douglas and was pleased — as he has been several times this season — to see the girls’ resiliency in the third-place game.
Douglas (25-3) came in as the No. 1 seed from the East and “they just beat us,” McKenzie said. The Lady Bearcats later took the state title with an identical 37-26 win over Worland.
Powell shut down the Douglas offense in the first half of Friday’s game, with the Lady Bearcats returning the favor. The teams played to a 4-4 tie in the first quarter and Douglas led 13-10 at the half.
“Great, great first half defensively,” said McKenzie. “We knew they (Douglas) were a little frustrated.”
“We felt really good where we were,” the coach added.
However, Douglas freshman Bailey Brooks scored a quick five points coming out of the half to set the tone. A Lensegrav 3-pointer and a pair of Ebersberger baskets brought it back to a three-point, 20-17 game, but Douglas shut down the Lady Panthers. They held Powell to just one basket over the final three minutes of the third quarter and the opening six-and-a-half minutes of the fourth quarter to open up a 31-19 lead that sealed the deal.
“Douglas played really hard and they were better defenders than we had accounted for,” said McKenzie. He noted the Lady Bearcats dominated in rebounding (43 boards to Powell’s 24).
Ebersberger scored nine points, Lensegrav six, Wagner four, Smith three, Harrington two and Harrison and Sleep each added one.
Swires injured her knee in the contest, keeping her out of all but the closing seconds of Saturday’s finale.
PHS shot 9 of 45 from the floor and 5 of 8 from the free throw line, not drawing as many fouls as usual.
Advancing to the game against Douglas took a Thursday morning win over Torrington (22-7), the East’s No. 3 seed but the 3A favorite for much of the season among coaches and media polled by WyoPreps.com.
“We knew we had a tough first-round opponent in Torrington,” said McKenzie.
After a back-and-forth first half that saw eight lead changes, PHS held a precarious 25-24 advantage.
Torrington knotted things up at 25-all, but a Harrington put-back 30 seconds into the third quarter would end up giving Powell the lead for good.
PHS led 34-31 at the end of the third period and made it hold up by making 12 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Ebersberger led a balanced attack with 11 points, followed by eight from Smith, seven each from Harrison and Donarski, six from Harrington, three from both Lensegrav and Wagner, two from Sleep and one from Swires.
Harrington led with eight rebounds, helping PHS out-rebound Torrington 37-31.
Torrington was playing through tragedy, as the day before the tournament a funeral was held for a former Lady Trailblazer, 19-year-old Kaylie Haun. Haun died in a March 7 rollover. Her two sisters play for Torrington’s current team.
Powell, which came in as Class 3A West’s No. 2 seed, was the only western conference team to advance to the semifinals and its six-point margin of victory was the day’s largest in a highly competitive field.
“I think if we played the tournament again next weekend, you’d have a different state champion,” McKenzie said of the parity.
He’s sad to be saying goodbye to the team’s five seniors and their “invaluable” leadership.
“They represented us really well,” McKenzie said. “And you know, we’re going to lose some great strength in the post from Shawnea (Harrington) and Tori (Sleep) and man are we going to lose some speed — three of the fastest guards I’ve ever coached: KaDee (Harrison), Brook (Lensegrav) and Jada (Swires).”
Despite those losses, McKenzie said he’s “really excited” about the program’s future.
Ebersberger, Wagner, Donarski and Smith all got significant playing time this season, Hanks saw meaningful minutes and sophomore Anissa Warner “came a long way this year” on the varsity roster, McKenzie said. Junior Makaila Moore also got a taste of state varsity action against Newcastle.
With those girls and others due to return next year, “We’re not really going to need to rebuild. We think we get to reload,” McKenzie said. “Not very often do you get to say that when you lose five seniors.”
He thanked the players’ parents, the Powell community, assistant coaches Troy Hildebrand and Gary Phister and team managers Cassidi Partridge, Emily Herman and Sara Harrison for their support of the Lady Panthers this season.
GIRLS 3A Standings
| 1. Douglas
| 2. Worland
| 3. POWELL
| 4. Star Valley