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The Lady Panthers could not overcome a 19-point first quarter deficit in their state semifinal game against Freeport Aquin Friday at Redbird Arena.
The Panthers made a big run in the second half, cutting the lead to as low as nine points, but Aquin held on for a 56-42 win to advance to the state championship game.
“It was a tough frist quarter,” coach Danielle Cooley said, “We didn't come out and shoot well, and we could never overcome that first quarter.”
Aquin scored the first 18 points of the game, behind their All-State player Sophie Bruning. Bruning scored from inside and outside, delivering 13 of her game-high 30 points in the first quarter.
“She was very tough,” LeRoy's Ashley Walker said, “She was one of the best inside players we've played against,”
LeRoy trailed 23-4 at the end of the first quarter. The second quarter was not much better for the Panthers as they went to halftime trailing 35-13.
But showing the character and toughness that has gotten them to this point, the Panthers fought their way back into the game in the third quarter. The huge crowd that traveled from LeRoy finally got a chance to make some noise, as the Panthers used quickness and hustle to chip away at the Aquin lead.
Walker took over the game offensively for LeRoy, as she continued to attack the basket. Walker scored 16 points in the third quarter and had 20 for the second half. Walker also had six steals, as the Panthers' pressure defense allowed them to cut the lead down to 9.
“This is a great team that deserves to be here,” Cooley said, “We had a chance all the way down to the end.”
But after the Panthers closed it to 9, Sophie Brunner wouldn't let them close it any more.
“She's a great player, probably as good as we've seen all year,” Cooley said, “Every time we hit a big shot, they hit one right back. Compliments to them. They beat us tonight and deserved to win.”
Walker led the Panthers with 26 points, matching her season-high. She also had 6 steals and 5 rebounds.
Molly Marcum battled foul problems throughout the game, and eventually fouled out with three minutes left. She finished with 7 points. Stephanie Howell had a big game for LeRoy inside, scoring 5 points and pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Panthers will have to quickly move on from the game, as they play Saturday again at Redbird Arena for the third place game. Lauren Russell said the Panthers will be ready for the game.
“This is already behind us,” Russell said, “We will be ready to go for tomorrow.”
Cooley said the Panthers have a chance to end their season on a high note by winning the third place game.
“We had a good second half and that's good for our confidence,” Cooley said, “We have a chance to come out with a win and that's what we plan to do.”