How a true team effort earned the Pana girls a spot in the IHSA basketball state finals
VANDALIA — The Pana girls basketball team perfectly understood its winning formula: A variety of different players needed to contribute.
The Panthers excelled beyond their wildest dreams.
Pana, ranked No. 2 statewide by The Associated Press, dispatched Carterville 64-56 in the Class 2A Vandalia Supersectional on Monday en route to its first state berth since 2003 using a blend of stingy defense and complementary offense.
“We're pretty good at playing our roles whenever we need to,” Pana senior guard/forward Ellie Kuhn said. “People like to step up.”
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Pana (35-1) advances to Thursday’s state semifinals against Quincy Notre Dame at Redbird Arena in Normal. The Raiders, ranked No. 3 statewide, edged Normal University 30-28 in the Beardstown Supersectional. Winnebago will play Minonk Fieldcrest in the other semifinal.
“It's some weight off the chest now we're finally going to state,” Pana senior guard/forward Jillian Hamilton said. “It was so much fun and this journey is great. It's very memorable.”
WEATHERING THE STORM
The Lions (27-7) trailed as much as 35-22 with 5 minutes, 26 seconds left in the third quarter until staging a frantic comeback.
Senior point guard and Southeast Missouri commit Alecia Doyle shouldered Carterville in the third period and evened the contest 45-all with a traditional 3-point play early in the fourth quarter.
She scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half while her younger sister, sophomore Amayah Doyle, led the Lions with a game-high 25 points.
“I give a lot of credit to my kids,” Carterville coach Todd Rogers said. “They could have just folded when we got down double figures. They didn't do that and they fought back.
“There's no hanging your head when you get beat and we just got beat tonight.”
Pana senior forward Lainey Hicks answered with a traditional three-point play herself on a putback attempt to build a two-possession lead.
“I just knew I had to keep fighting and getting back up as much as I could and keep getting those rebounds and keep pushing through, and it finally paid off,” Hicks said.
Then it was Kuhn’s turn.
She used the baseline on consecutive possessions to extend the margin 55-49 with under 3 minutes left.
“Ellie is very quick and when she pulls that out no one's expecting it,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton, who leads Pana with 17.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, carried Pana in the third quarter with 10 of her team-high 21 points.
That spotlight shifted to the rest of the group down the stretch.
“I figured after I hit a couple shots, they were going to try and come out on me but everyone else stepped up and got the ball in the basket,” Hamilton said. “That's what we needed to do.”
Pana shot 12-of-17 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter to cement the win.
Senior point guard Rachel Holthaus in particular went 5-of-8 at the line while Hamilton and junior guard Anna Beyers each went 3 of 4 in the final eight minutes.
Beyers totaled 13 points while Holthaus added 12 points. Hicks, who had a stellar first quarter, finished with 10 points and nine rebounds while matching up against Amayah.
Kuhn rounded out the scoreboard with eight points.
“It was a little iffy there for a bit,” Holthaus said. “We knew what we had to do and work together. That's what we do best: spreading the floor, getting down on defense and that's what won us the game.”
Pana pulled away with key defensive stops.
Beyers corralled a steal and Hamilton ensued with a block on back-to-back defensive stands to help sustain an eight-point advantage with under two minutes left.
Pana coach Brent McKinney said different kids stepped up at different times.
“I'm so happy for the town and I'm so happy for the kids to finally get a chance (to go to state),” said McKinney, who took the helm last season. “There's a lot of expectations on this group coming in and last year obviously got taken (away), so I'm just so glad we had so many juniors to come back (as seniors) and be able to experience it.”
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