The Centralia Panthers basketball teams had a mixed night against visiting South Shelby.
The Lady Panthers lost a close one, 50-45.
The boys won theirs, 63-53.
Olivia Eikel was presented her 1,000-point game ball and the court warming queen crown. Draven Hamilton was crowned court warming king.
The Lady Panthers gave their fans at court warming a good show. It’s doubtful anybody left Jim Enlow Court thinking they had watched a boring game.
The Lady Panthers dominated early and finished the first quarter ahead two, leading 9-7 behind Courtney Luedloff, Olivia Eikel and Mary Kate Bennett’s shooting pressure. They got there with an early lead. Centralia was up 7-2 before South Shelby put anything together.
That momentum continued in the second with South Shelby’s Diana May scored some early buckets and put South Shelby on top 10-9.
It wasn’t much, but it inspired South Shelby to hang on and take that one-point margin into the locker room for halftime, when they led 21-20
Centralia took the game back in the third. Carter Simkins found her grove and started shooting from the east side including a three-pointer Eikel promptly echoed to put Centralia back ahead 29-26.
Meanwhile, another, friendlier battle went on between the Centralia High School cheerleaders chanting “Here we go Panthers, here we go…” and the student section of the bleachers who were chanting ”De-Fence,” while holding up visual aids to get the point across. As the third ended, Luedloff also started landing threes to solidify the Lady Panther lead.
All the while, as the Palmyra shots were going up, Centralia’s rebounding was pulling them down, including a spectacular horizontal retrieve by Jaymi Freeman.
That all came together to put Centralia ahead 35-32 as the game rumbled into the fourth quarter.
That’s when South Shelby’s free throws started falling with a touch more certainty than Centralia’s and that led them to their five-point win over Centralia.
“They hit the big shots down the stretch in the fourth,” said Centralia Lady Panther Head Coach Becca Schemmer of South Shelby’s game. “The girls played hard but we lost momentum in the fourth and didn’t get it back. Basketball’s a game of momentum.”
Despite the momentum leaving the Lady Panthers with a 9-9 record Schemmer saw some good in the game.
“Jaymi Freeman,” she said when asked if anything put a smile on her face. “She brought positive energy to the floor no matter what was happening. She made sure her teammates felt supported out there . . . If we play South Shelby again, it will end differently.”
South Shelby Head Coach Luke O’Laughlin, who left Centralia with a 15-4 record, agreed it was a close game. “Oh yes,” he said. “We had to work to keep Olivia Eikel under control. Anybody who can get All Conference in this conference as a junior, which she did last year, and score 1,000 points in this conference, she’s a game changer. Anything can happen. And there were some huge turnovers in the fourth”
On the boys’ side of the book, it was a good night to be a Panther.
South Shelby gave Centralia a very competitive first quarter when Brock Wood seemed to sleep the leash Centralia had for him, every other possession. His escapes and accompanying scores left Panther fans concerned as the first quarter ended 14-9 South Shelby.
The winds of Centralia’s three-point attack blew away the confusion in the second.
Peyton Davis scored his first one 13 seconds into the second. Guy Moran followed it with a west-side skyhook and some successful free-throws and the 17-14 Centralia score made Panther fans smile.
Then John Durant reminded South Shelby why he was a starter by jumping through some South Shelby defenders, getting fouled in the process. By the team the referees had it all sorted out Centralia was ahead 22-14 and never looked back.
Centralia took a 29-20 lead into the locker room at half time.
They stretched the lead to 10 in the third with Durant, Davis and Moran applying consistent shooting pressure and Gus Stidham keeping South Shelby honest in the rebound department.
Despite Wood’s occasional break-aways, he finished the game with a game-high 25, nobody seemed surprised with Centralia’s 63-53 victory.
“There were really two different games,” said South Shelby Head Coach Ethan Shackelford. “In the first half, especially the first quarter, we set the tempo. They took it back in the second.”
Centralia Head Coach Scott Humphrey agreed. “We played better when we sped it up on them,” he said. “Coach Shackelford did a good job of taking the outside game away from us, but we still had five threes and they came at key times.”
He also said Centralia’s 1-3-1 press helped them control South Shelby’s shooters in the second half. “The plan was to transition to that and get out and run,” Humphrey said. “They tried to counter with their Man-to-Man, but they could only do it in short spurts.”
He said the game was a good confidence-builder for the boys, “We’re still turning the corner, but it’s coming.” The Panthers finished court warming with an 11-7 win. Last season now, Humphrey said they had won five.