With region play looming after the Christmas break, the Lakeside Panthers are starting to build momentum.
After starting the season 0-8, the Panthers won three in a row including Monday night’s hard-fought 63-59 triumph over Jefferson County.
“I’m glad for the win,” said head coach Jody Hilley, who took over as boys coach a week before the season started. “It’s been a rough start, but we’re kind of getting the season turned around.”
Hilley pointed to the team winning the Lincoln County Christmas Classic Tournament Dec. 15, with wins over Washington-Wilkes and McCormick County, as a confidence booster. Sam Powell was the MVP of the tournament and point guard BJ Raymond was on the all-tournament team. Both were instrumental in Monday’s win.
Powell led the Panthers (3-8) with a game-high 28 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots while Raymond had 10 points and three assists, all in the second half.
With Raymond taking charge, the Panthers’ ball movement led to easy baskets in the third period as they went into the fourth up 45-42.
“We were trying to attack the middle because they were collapsing on the penetrator and they were able to dish it to the post players,” said Powell.
The Panthers surrendered a six-point lead and trailed 57-55 with 2:20 to play, but outscored the Warriors 8-2 the rest of the way.
Clinging to a 61-59 lead, the Panthers’ Roberto Gonzalez stole the ball with 12 seconds left as the Warriors (3-5) were attempting to hold for the last shot. Gonzalez was fouled and sank two free throws to put the game out of reach.
That the Panthers won the game at the line was fitting. They sank 19-of-21 attempts for the night while the Warriors were just two-for-five, all in the fourth period.
“We’ve been preaching the last two weeks we have to learn how to close people out and we proved we could do that tonight,” said Hilley.
The Lady Panthers jumped out to a 15-4 first-period lead against the Lady Warriors man-to-man defense and matched Jefferson County the rest of the way, winning 33-22.
“We were working the ball well, the point guards kept their heads up and the post players did what we had to do to get the win tonight,” said Rosalyn Talley, who scored a game-high 17 points.
With guards Bria Baker and Tristan Real still out for the Lady Panthers, head coach Drew Shelton was pleased with the guard play and singled out Savannah Mydel for her effort, in addition to her seven points.
“Mydel got loose balls and rebounds and played like a senior tonight,” Shelton said.
After the Lady Warriors switched to a zone in the second period, the game turned into a defensive battle the rest of the way.
“We’re coming along on defense,” said Shelton. “You play good defense you have a good chance to win.”
With its own zone working well, the Panthers suffocated the Lady Warriors with its defensive rebounding, not allowing many second-chance opportunities.