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Daily Journal
     January 30, 2020      #73-30 KDJ

GIRLS BASKETBALL: Watseka falls to PBL in SVC

Kevin Newberry
Special to the Daily Journal

WATSEKA — The Watseka girls basketball team knew in order to contend with Paxton-Buckley-Loda in the championship game of the Sangamon Valley Conference Tournament on Saturday, the Warriors would have to grind out a victory against the conference leader.

Dogged defense and an impressive level of intensity on both ends of the floor kept the Warriors well within striking distance in the first half, but the Panthers finally broke through after halftime and powered their way to a 51-36 victory that wasn’t quite as comfortable as the final score made it seem.

Watseka fell behind quickly in the opening quarter of the championship tilt, but a surge of offense late in the quarter, including a big 3-pointer from Allie Hoy, brought the Warriors within one at the period’s end. P-B-L, meanwhile, was in constant foul trouble during the first two quarters, which severely hampered its efforts in the early going.

Panthers’ standout Mackenzie Bruns was rendered a nonfactor early on because of three very quick fouls that relegated her to the bench for the vast majority of the opening half. The Warriors took full advantage of her absence but failed to capitalize at the free-throw line during that span.

Typically a rock-solid squad from the free-throw line, Watseka shot 10 for 20 in the loss. Instead of exploiting the Panthers’ dire foul trouble and establishing a lead at home in a such a high-stakes meeting, the Warriors were forced to settle for a 21-21 tie at halftime.

Bruns’ return in the third quarter saw her put up seven points in lightning-quick fashion to help the Panthers pull ahead to start the second half, but another foul cut her comeback short and sent her back to the bench. Watseka stayed within range to end the third and trailed 35-28 entering the final frame, but once Bruns returned for the fourth, it was all over for the home team. Foul trouble or not, Bruns seized full control of the contest down the stretch, putting up 11 of her game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter and slamming the door on the Warriors’ comeback hopes.

“I thought in the first half we really played to the game plan, and I was really proud of them. Other than Natalie Schroeder, we don’t have anyone who has played in a big game. We’ve won a few of these in the past few years, and some of these girls have been on the bench for those, but they haven’t really been in the game,” said Watseka coach Barry Bauer. “The first half was really encouraging, but it got away from us a little bit. That’s something we’re going to have to learn from.

“The details got away from us, and they are a really good team,” he added. “When you don’t execute on the small things against a team like this, they’re going to make you pay for it. They did that tonight.”

Kennedy McTaggart led the Warriors with 11 points, and Schroeder also reached double-digit scoring with 10 in the loss. Watseka is 19-6 overall this season and unbeaten in conference play at 4-0 outside of the tournament. They will have a high-stakes rematch with P-B-L at home in Watseka on Thursday with the SVC crown hanging in the balance.

“This group needed the experience — other than Natalie, they just haven’t had it. It was a good experience tonight, and we have them again on Thursday,” Bauer said. “We don’t put conference tournaments up on the wall; we put conference championships up there. Those hopes are still alive, but what we found out tonight is we’re going to have to play a really good game in order to beat them because they’re a really good team.”

Dwight 48, Iroquois West 33

The SVC Tournament’s third-place game was really all about one person — Trojans junior guard Kayla Kodat.

In a one-sided Dwight victory, Kodat held firm control of the contest nearly on her own. She sprinted out early with a pair of big 3-pointers in the first quarter to help the Trojans establish their permanent lead, then thoroughly dominated every minute of her remaining playtime in the rout.

When Kodat exited the floor for the final time with four minutes remaining in regulation, she had 32 points and Dwight led the Raiders by a 48-26 margin at that point. While Iroquois West would pick up a few buckets in the final minutes with Kodat off the floor to narrowly avoid being singlehandedly outscored by the junior phenom, she had outdone them to that point with six points to spare.

“It feels great. We had a good first game, and we were really looking forward to facing Watseka but kind of choked a little bit [in the semifinals],” Kodat said. “We just wanted to bounce back tonight, and I think we did that. I’m really proud of the girls.

“Rebounding was a little better tonight. We’ve been struggling with that all season, but I thought we did a good job getting them off the boards. [Iroquois West] has some nice, tall girls and strong post, but we did a nice job,” she added. “I had some success getting to the basket and went to the line quite a bit, which helps, and got some nice fast-break layups.”

No other player on either team reached double-digit scoring, as Kodat put on a basketball clinic in the win for Dwight.

Central 37, Momence 31

Hanna Offerman made the difference for the Comets in the consolation championship of the SVC Tournament. The Central senior put up 17 points and led the way to victory against Momence.

After a hard-fought first half, the Comets outmatched Momence by a 13-2 margin in the third quarter, which gave Central an insurmountable lead late in the contest. The victory improved Central’s season standing to 9-16, and Momence dropped to 6-17 with the loss.

Cissna Park 56, St. Anne 47

The Timberwolves’ Mikayla Knake and St. Anne’s Jasmin Toepfer put up dueling 18-point performances in the seventh-place game of the SVC Tournament, but superior support for Knake from her teammates secured the win for Cissna Park.

Bonnie Russell and Alexis Seggebruch came through with 15 points apiece for the ‘Wolves in the victory. Russell was excellent off the bench and crucial down the stretch in the victory, scoring 11 of her 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Seggebruch, on the other hand, was huge for the Timberwolves as they established their lead in the first place: All of her scoring was via five 3-pointers, four of which came in the first half.

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