Looking in from the outside, the 2018-19 Litchfield Purple Panthers had a lot of questions as they entered their campaign. The 12 players and the coaching staff did not have any questions though as they knew what they were going to bring to the table this year.
Led by a hand full of seniors, the 2018-19 Purple Panthers would turn heads and draw attention to their games throughout the year. Even though the Purple Panthers would have one of their most competitive summers in a few years, they would still be voted to finish eighth in the South Central Conference.
It would not take long for Litchfield to start drawing attention though. Litchfield would open their season in the annual Metro East Lutheran Turkey Tip-off. As usual, the field in the tournament would be very competitive and the Purple Panthers showed they were ready to take the challenge.
In their opening contest the Purple Panthers would defeat Marissa-Coulterville, a team that would finish their season in the regional championship with a record of 24-3. Following the opening victory Litchfield would square off against a perennial powerhouse Waterloo-Gibault and grab their second win of the season with a 57-46 victory.
After falling in their third contest the Purple Panthers would grab win three of the season and claim third place in the tournament with a win over Odin. Odin would eventually win a regional championship at the end of this season as well.
Following a successful start to the season Litchfield would roll off four straight wins, moving their record to 7-1. After a small seven point hiccup against another perennial powerhouse, Nokomis, the Purple Panthers would enter the Carlinville Holiday Tournament as the one seed.
After claiming their first win of the tournament, Litchfield would fall in the semifinals to Hardin-Calhoun, another team that would be in the regional championship at the end of the season. The Purple Panthers would bounce back and claim their second third place finish in tournaments this season and would end the 2018 portion of the schedule with a 9-3 record.
For Litchfield, the second half of their schedule was the toughest in the past season and that did not change this season. Litchfield would move their record to 11-3 overall as they would grab two wins opening the 2019 portion of the schedule.
The Purple Panthers would then enter the toughest stretch of games in their whole schedule, the Rick McGraw Memorial Tournament. The host school would enter the tournament as a five seed and would walk away from the tournament with a seventh place finish with a 2-2 record during the tournament.
The tough games would continue to roll at the Purple Panthers after their own tournament, but they would put a solid effort on the court. Litchfield would move to 14-5 overall before dropping two straight games.
Again though they would rebound nicely and pick up four straight wins including victories over Pana (a regional champion) and Carrollton.
Entering the last week of the regular season Litchfield would have a chance to claim 20 wins and a conference championship. Greenville would make sure they would be the sole team on top of the conference as they defeated the Purple Panthers to secure the conference championship.
The biggest game of the season might have came on the last night of the regular season as the Purple Panthers defeated their Route 16 rival Hillsboro 71-42, ending the regular season with a 19-9 record.
In their first regional game the Purple Panthers would claim win 20 on the year, but in the regional semifinals the campaign would come to a screeching halt as the Greenville Comets defeated the Purple Panthers for the third time in the season.
Even though the Purple Panthers would come up short in postseason play, there would be a lot of positives this season. Two third place finishes in tournaments, the first regional win since 2012, the 20th Litchfield team to claim 20 wins in a season and a second place finish in the South Central Conference was not to shabby for a team that was predicted to finish eighth at the beginning of the year.
It all started with heart, team and dedication though. The five seniors would lead the way for the Purple Panthers as they had their eyes set on a fantastic season.
Sam Painter, Seth McGill, Ethan Washburn, Billy Beckham and Alex Fischer would pave the way for the Purple Panthers and the success they had this season. This group would score 74 percent of the points Litchfield recorded this season and were lead in scoring by Sam Painter's 575 points.
Ethan Washburn would be the second leading scorer in the senior group with 261 as he finished third in scoring on the team.
The senior group also combined for 567 rebounds this season which was 78 percent of the team's total. Painter would lead the way in the rebound category with 211 rebounds and Washburn would follow with 160 rebounds.
The senior group was also a group that would like to share the basketball as they would collect 83 percent of the team's total assists.
These five seniors would not have had a successful season without a supporting cast. Brady Bishop would be the lone non-senior starter this season and he made a lasting impression on the upperclassmen. Bishop would be the second leading scorer with 306 points, would shoot the second most free throws this season and would lead the team in free throw percentage at 76 percent.
Austin Niehaus and John Corso would also log a significant amount of playing time for the varsity Purple Panthers and would contribute in many ways throughout the season. Blaine Stewart, a freshman, would grab some key minutes this season and would take advantage of those minutes as he would knock down some three-point field goals in key opportunities.
Each of those individuals made a mark on this year's team but the team made a mark on the Purple Panther fan base and the basketball program as well.
These individuals helped carry out a Litchfield basketball tradition and would be part of bringing the Litchfield basketball program to over 1,400 wins.
As the season is now complete, the seniors have become part of the Litchfield basketball history and will move over and allow the underclassmen to take over the reigns of the program. Next year will once again see a different group of starters as only one starter returns from this season.
Even though there will be a lot of questions for next year's Purple Panthers team, the group has been part of that scenario once before. Under the direction of Coach Drew Logan one thing is for sure, the Purple Panthers will be a disciplined and hard working team day in and day out.
Logan grabbed his 100th win this season as the head basketball coach at Litchfield and moved closer to the third spot, currently held by Coach Ed Roundcount, on the list of most career wins as a head basketball coach at Litchfield High School. Logan will enter his ninth season with 118 wins at Litchfield and his 17th year as a head coach with 162 wins.
With the 2018-2019 season not even out of view of the rear view mirror, Coach Logan is already working on another successful season ahead of him. With the pavement laid by the graduating seniors, next year's Purple Panthers will continue to follow the path.
No one can predict the future for next year's squad, but the success this season and a continued dream to succeed could bring some more excitement to the Purple Panthers on the hardwood in 2019-2020.