“At the start of the season, our team goals were to finish the season playing .500 ball, play better defense and be more consistent on offense,” Coach Rob Corso said of his Litchfield Lady Panther varsity basketball team. “We were fortunate to accomplish the .500 record, which was nice after posting consecutive 7-22 seasons, and although we did struggle from time to time on offense, our defense was improved and we were able to play less zone which helped make us more aggressive.”
During regular season play, the Panthers won 15 games against 14 losses. Their loss to Pittsfield in game one of regional tournament play at Carlinville evened their record to 15-15 and brought their 2019-20 campaign to an end. The Pittsfield Saukees bested Porta AC Central in the semi-finals but lost to the host school Cavaliers on Feb. 14 in the regional title game.
After posting a 40-point win at Bunker Hill on Nov. 18 in their season opener, a game in which they would lose their promising freshman, Blair Johnson, for the remainder of the season, they followed up with a six-point squeaker over Nokomis in their home opener on Nov. 19.
“We had some key injuries with sophomore Carly Guinn and Johnson missing almost the entire season,” Corso said. “Freshman Laura Boston and sophomore Lily Braasch had to step up and play some varsity games and they did a nice job.”
In their annual Thanksgiving tournament in late November, the Lady Panthers cruised to a perfect 3-0 record before losing by 30 to Southwestern in the championship game. They would get another crack at the Lady Birds on Jan. 30 at Southwestern and the purple and white gave them all they wanted before losing by eight in overtime.
“In my opinion, the game at Southwestern was the best game we played all season,” Coach Corso said.
Trailing by three points at the end of the third quarter, junior Becky Painter spearheaded a fourth quarter surge that led to a 36-36 tie at the end of the fourth before falling in overtime.
“The girls played a solid 32 minutes and beyond and even though it was a loss, the team left the locker room that night feeling good about themselves,” Corso added.
The Panthers finished their tournament with a 3-1 record having defeated Carlyle, Staunton and Nokomis.
Their only other tournament appearance was at the Carlinville Christmas Holiday Classic where they finished 2-2 with wins over Nokomis and Staunton and losses to Carlinville and Greenfield-Northwestern.
Litchfield will forego the Carlinville Holiday Classic next year and compete in the highly competitive Riverton Lady Hawks Christmas Tournament, which featured 16 teams last year.
Excluding tournament games, the Lady Panthers were 7-3 on their home floor and 3-9 on the road. They won ten games by ten points or more and lost four games by ten points or less. They finished 3-6 in South Central Conference play, having posted wins over Staunton, Vandalia and Roxana.
The least amount of points scored in a game by the Panthers was 19 against Pana, which resulted in a lopsided 27-point loss, while the 19 points they scored against East Alton-Wood River on Jan. 23 was enough to gain a two-point road win.
They averaged 38 points per game with their highest point total coming at home against Riverton on Jan. 27, when they put up 58 and won by 22 over the Hawks. They scored 1,138 points in 30 games. Their opponents averaged 38.3 points per game, having scored 1,148 points against them.
The Lady Panthers started three seniors, Carly Boden, Carson Jackson and Emily Senjan and their leadership is evidenced in the end-of-season statistics.
“Our three seniors provided the team with a lot of leadership this season,” Coach Corso said.
Consistency and durability were also a given as all three seniors played in all 30 games.
Carly Boden scored 227 points to lead the team in scoring and points per game with a 7.6 ppg average. She was 105-of-197 from the floor (.533) and 17-of-32 from the free-throw line (.531). She pulled down 111 rebounds for an average of 3.7 per game and had seven blocks, eight assists and seven steals. The 5’10’ post player exploded for 21 points against Lincolnwood and scored in double figures nine different times throughout the season.
Carson Jackson scored 174 points and averaged 5.8 points per game. She pulled down 81 caroms and dished out 64 assists. She made 30-of-74 two-point shots (.405) and netted 32-of-121 from beyond the arc (.264). She converted 18-of-29 free throws for an average of .621. Defensively, she recorded 38 steals.
Jackson dropped in four three-point baskets against Staunton during the Carlinville Holiday Tournament and finished the game with 14 points. On Feb. 3, against North Mac, she scored 18 points, including three treys. She recently had another four-peat against Calhoun on Feb. 8, and finished as the team’s scoring leader with 17 points.
Emily Senjan scored 173 points in 30 games for a 5.8 per game average. She attempted 107 two-point shots and converted 43 (.402). She made 18-of-71 triples (.254) and was 33-of-62 from the charity stripe (.532). Senjan grabbed 125 rebounds, dished out 58 assists and had 42 defensive steals.
She too was a threat from deep. Against Springfield Lutheran on Dec. 7 and again on Dec. 12 against Carlinville, she dropped in three three-point field goals and finished the games with 13 and 14 points respectively.
Junior Becky Painter appeared in 29 games and led the team in three point baskets with 38 (38-of-120 for .317 average) and was second behind Boden in points scored with 200 (6.9 ppg). Painter attempted 104 two-point baskets and sank 32 (.308). She went 22-of-48 from the free-throw line (.458). She was second behind Cara Pence in rebounds with 157 and also second behind Pence in assists and steals with 74 and 64 respectively. She had four defensive blocks. Becky scored in double figures eight different times and in five of the eight, her point total included three three-point field goals.
Junior Cara Pence finished the season leading the Panthers in rebounds with 258 in 30 games for an average of 8.6 per game. She also established herself as the team leader in assists (75), steals (75) and blocks (14). Pence appeared in all 30 games and scored 172 points for a 5.7 per game average. She was 50-of-148 in two-point shots (.338) and 19-of-73 from beyond the arc (.260). She converted just under half of her free throw attempts (15-of-31 for .484).
Maddie Diamond appeared in 25 games. The junior speedster scored 135 points, many of which were layups that were a direct result of her 31 steals. She shot .407 from the floor (57-of-140 from two-point) and was 4-of-35 from three-point range (.114). She sank 9-of-18 free throws and averaged 5.4 points per game. She had 43 assists. Against Pittsfield in the Carlnville regional, Diamond led the Panthers with 13 points.
Sophomore Lily Braasch appeared in 17 games and scored six points. She attempted ten shots from the floor and made three for six points. She had 21 rebounds, five assists and a defensive steal. Sophomore Carly Guinn played in nine varsity games and scored three points, including a three-point basket against Southwestern.
Freshman Laura Boston appeared in 22 games and sank 9-of-28 two-point baskets (.321) and converted 7-of-16 free throws (.438). Playing in the post position, she scored 25 points, grabbed 29 rebounds and had nine assists and six steals. Freshman teammate Hailey Rentz played in nine varsity games and scored three points.
Next year’s cast of players will include seven varsity letter winners, including this year’s MVP, Becky Painter, one of four seniors who should provide an element of leadership for Coach Rob Corso’s Lady Panthers.