Coach Jason Storm's Lady Panthers from Pana entered last Thursday night's South Central Conference game at Litchfield riding a six-game winning streak and they looked every bit the part of a team that has won 19 games thus far and are shooting for a conference title. But with a 5-1 record, the conference race is far from over as Greenville also sports a 5-1 record while Hillsboro and Carlinville are 4-2.
"We feel we are playing really well right now. We have won six games in a row and 12 of our last 13," said Coach Storm. "Our conference games left are at Hillsboro, at Piasa Southwestern and at home against Vandalia. Those will be three tough games as we try to finish out the season. The conference race is still wide open and will be interesting to see how it plays out. We know that all we can do is try to win our three games and the rest of it will play out however it is going to play out."
Against Litchfield, the visiting Panthers set the pace early as they built a 17-4 first quarter lead that was extended to 25-11 at the half as the Purple Panthers struggled to protect the basketball against Pana's sticky man-to-man defense and searched for consistency in their offense.
Pana controlled the opening tip but turned it over and it was an opportunity for Litchfield to take the early lead, but Carson Jackson couldn't connect and Rachel Holthaus scored off the defensive rebound. Another Litchfield turnover and another layup by Holthaus and it was quickly 4-0, Pana.
Litchfield would break through with an Emily Senjan to Becky Painter find for two before a Pana timeout with 6:06 left in the quarter. The visiting Panthers responded with eight straight points to push the score to 12-2 and with 2:25 left, Senjan found Cara Pence in the paint for two, but it would be the last bucket of the period for Litchfield as Lainey Hicks added a deuce and Holthaus drained a triple seconds before the buzzer sounded.
Leading 17-4, Pana could have added to their lead on their first possession of the second quarter as Sadie Keller was fouled but did not convert either free throw. On the next possession, Litchfield's Cara Pence scored, was fouled in the process and sank the bonus.
Pana went on an eight-point mini run and with 1:45 seconds left in the half, Boden scored her only basket of the game. Following a Pana miss and a scrum for the ball that ended in a jump ball with the arrow pointing to Litchfield, Pence would bury an eight-foot jumper to cut the Pana lead to 25-11 at halftime.
Pana's full court pressure in the third quarter wreaked havoc as the purple and white committed seven turnovers and put up just four shots from the floor with Senjan and Painter finding the bottom of the hoop. Pana scored 15 points in the quarter with Kylie Hocq leading the charge with five points, followed by Holthaus with four and Sway Denton, Sadie Keller and Jillian Hamilton each with a basket.
Litchfield would lose Becky Painter to fouls early in the fourth and both coaches went to their benches freely throughout the period. Sophomore Lily Braasch and senior Emily Senjan accounted for Litchfield's four fourth quarter points while Pana freshman Anna Beyers had four points in the period and Shelby Edwards had a bucket to help preserve a 46-19 Pana decision.
Litchfield finished the game shooting 9-of-29 from the floor. The Panthers were unable to cash in from beyond the arc as they put up nine empty treys. They pulled down 15 defensive rebounds and five offensive boards, with Carly Boden leading the team with eight caroms followed by Cara Pence with five and Senjan, Kate Komor and Braasch each with four.
Free throws were not a factor in the game as Cara Pence sank the only charity toss for Litchfield while Pana's Holthaus and Hamilton combined to net 2-of-7 for Pana.
The Pana Panthers were 19-of-40 from the floor and 2-of-12 from three point land. They scored 30 points from paint and had 21 points scored off Litchfield turnovers. Collectively, they pulled down 33 rebounds, 15 on the defensive side and 18 offensive. The Panthers had eight different players in the scorebook led by sophomore Jillian Hamilton with 13, 11 in the first half. Sophomore Rachel Holthaus dropped in 12 points, going 5-of-8 from the field.
"I thought we played a good game tonight. We got off to a great start and our defensive pressure forced Litchfield into several turnovers. Good, aggressive defense is something we work hard on. We want to put pressure on our opponents for the entire game. Our girls take great pride in working hard on defense and trying to disrupt the other team's offense," Coach Storm said. "We fell our depth allows us to do that. We feel comfortable playing 10-11 girls each game and running girls in and out all game allows us to keep pressure on our opponents while keeping our girls fresh. It is definitely something that most teams are not able to do and we feel it has allowed us to wear other teams down which benefits us later in the game."
Pana will host Lincolnwood this evening, while Litchfield is idle until Thursday, Jan. 23, when they travel to East Alton-Wood River.
Pana made a clean sweep of the evening as the junior Pana Panthers posted a 55-16 win over their hosts.
January 16 at Litchfield
Pana 17 8 15 6 46
Litchfield 4 7 4 4 19
Pana (46) - Jillian Hamilton 13, Rachel Holthaus 12, Kylie Hocq 7, Anna Beyers 6, Sway Denton 2, Lainey Hicks 2, Sadie Keller 2, Shelby Edwards 2. Totals: 21 (2-6) 46.
Litchfield (19) - Cara Pence 7, Emily Senjan 4, Becky Painter 4, Lily Braasch 2, Carly Boden 2. Totals: 9 (1-1) 19.
Three-point field goals: Pana (2) (Kylie Hocq 1, Rachel Holthaus 1); Litchfield 0.
Records: Pana (19-6, 5-1); Litchfield (11-11, 2-4).