Panthers roar past Comets in second half, 63-17
PACKWOOD – Pekin and Cardinal have a friendly feud and the two teams got to renew that rivalry with a boys’ and girls’ basketball game Tuesday night.
Pekin and Cardinal girls’ teams lost a number of seniors last year, so each coach has been experimenting with lineups to see which of the underclassmen can contribute. Pekin’s coach Davis Eidahl lost four starters but returned several girls with height, a fact that was particularly evident against Cardinal. Comet coach Kayla Eakins said her team is likely the shortest team Pekin and other conference opponents will play all season.
Pekin’s height advantage in the frontcourt seemed almost unfair. Maci Gambell, Paige Winn and particularly Faith Oostra were noticeably taller than the Comets tasked with guarding them. And yet, Cardinal hung tough through the first 16 minutes. The Comets realized that beating Pekin would mean hitting outside shots, which they had some success doing in the first half.
The Panthers, meanwhile, settled for threes and long jumpers often enough to let Cardinal stay in the game. Given that the Panthers are fresh off a 24-2 season and the Comets are fresh off one in which they snagged only four wins, Eakins was pleased to go into halftime trailing only 25-12.
Pekin scored a few buckets to start the third quarter but Lydia Moses responded by swishing a three-pointer to cut Cardinal’s deficit to 29-15. For the next few minutes, the Panthers kept the Comets in the game as they continued settling for long jumpers.
Things began to change with about three minutes left in the quarter. Pekin scored layups on back-to-back breakaways to extend its lead to 35-15. Kaylee Linder drained a three-pointer moments later, and Emilee Linder followed that with a breakaway layup to push the lead to 40-17, which is how the quarter ended.
The Panthers ran a give-and-go play near the three-point line in which the initial passer dumps the ball to a teammate and then runs to an open spot near the lane. Pekin scored one bucket after another running that play, and Cardinal seemed powerless to stop it. The Comets started the quarter by making a few bad passes that led to points for Pekin. The Panthers were more consistent about exploiting their height advantage down low by giving the ball to Oostra, who scored back-to-back buckets to extend the hosts’ lead to 46-17.
With four minutes to play, both coaches pulled most of their starters to let bench players see action. Cardinal struggled to get quality shots and ultimately failed to score in the quarter as Pekin won 63-17.
Kaylee Linder had a terrific night as she led the Panthers in scoring with 12 points on 4-7 shooting and 2-3 from long range. She led the team in rebounds, too, with eight and had two assists and a steal. Maci Gambell turned in a good performance as well as she shot 4-8 from the floor, 1-2 from distance, to finish with 11 points. She had seven rebounds and three steals.
Oostra was not in the starting lineup but did plenty of damage off the bench. She scored nine points to go with a rebound, an assist and a steal. Whitney Johnson made three field goals to finish with eight points and three steals. Winn also gave Eidahl good minutes off the bench as she scored six points and had two boards. Zoey Wright scored five points and had three rebounds and two steals. Shea Dahlstrom, Haley Gambell and Emilee Linder all had four points.
Eidahl said he told the girls at halftime to speed up the action, and it worked.
“We were too slow moving the ball,” he said. “We were not going to the boards and were not finishing our plays.”
The Panthers’ coach said his team knows it needs to start faster and be aware of what other girls on the team are doing.
All four quarters
Eakins said she was happy with her team’s performance in the first half, but noted a concerning pattern she has observed in the first three games.
“They seem to have more of a fire in the first half and then it slowly fades away,” she said. “I’m not sure why that is, but it is something we are going to have to work on.”
Eakins said the team has averaged 25-30 turnovers per game, a number too high to win many contests. The fundamentals the team is working on are handling pressure, passing, driving and kicking the ball out.
“We tend to drive, but then lose the ball,” she said. “In order for us to be able to run our plays effectively, we have to be able to handle pressure and handle the ball.”
Eakins said she is proud of the girls’ attitude through the first three games. She said their behavior on and off the court is exactly what she expects of them.
“I have had so many adults comment on how well we share the ball this year,” she said. “It’s not a one-man or a two-man team. It’s a five-man team, and if we continue to work hard, great things will happen.”
Freshman Maddie Cloke did not start but led Cardinal in scoring with six points on 3-7 shooting. She also led the team in rebounds (seven) and steals (three).
Moses finished with three points and two rebounds. Cassidy Jameson had two points. Autumn Deshler scored a pair on two free throws to go with two rebounds and an assist. Sarah Schmidt scored a bucket and had a steal. Jamie White had two points to round out the Comets’ scoring.
Pekin travels to Mediapolis for its first road tilt Friday, while Cardinal hosts Central Lee that night.