Lady Panthers Fall Short in Championship Game

Anthony Gutierrez
Staff Writer
March 2, 2016

River News-Herald

It was the championship game for girls basketball between the Riverview Panthers (seeded as #2) and Valley Warriors (seeded as #1) at the Riverview Middle school gym. Both teams clashed and became stars from their final showdown to remember for the ages.

In the 1st quarter, both teams kept each other well at the neutral for the first 2 minutes. Both teams seemed evenly matched with the Lady Warriors holding a tight defense and the Lady Panthers piercing a strong offense. What happens when the most powerful sword and the most powerful defense clash? A stalemate. And this stalemate would’ve kept staying this way if it wasn’t for the Lady Panthers’ Kaylee Kitchens, who had a breakthrough performance.

What started as a successful free throw led to another then to a successful layup and then another. And another. Something just clicked for Kaylee and the Rio crowd was filled with excitement at the powerhouse plays that she was going for. She was on fire. “GO KAYLEE” was one such cheer as she managed to score an impressive 8 straight points two the Warriors’ 0 at the beginning of the quarter.  The spotlight was on Kaylee and the spirits of the Lady Panthers roared strongly from such an impressive display of athleticism.
The lady Panthers’ Kaitlyn O’connor also had a fantastic showing. She made smart screens and put great pressure on the Lady Warriors that would result in them losing control of the ball and making questionable plays. O’connor was like the Great Wall of China when she was defending. Her opponents found it very challenging to get past her stronghold.

It wasn’t until the last minutes of the 1st quarter that the Warriors managed to score a basket, sending the message that they still had fight in them. The quarter ended at 8-2, but it left some lingering questions. How will the Warriors retaliate to Kaylee’s onslaught? Will the pressure to overcome become overwhelming for the Warriors? What do the Warriors have to do to adapt?

Onto the second quarter, things took a turn. The period started off with Dallas Haley scoring a 2 pointer and the Rio crowd was really feeling it. Something turned up in the Warriors, however. Their point guard drove up the ball differently this time around. The Warriors reacted differently to the Rio pressure. The Warriors adapted and they found new opportunities where they could take the Panthers. Slowly but surely, the Warriors kept up this game plan to accumulate points. At the end of the quarter it was Rio 10- Warriors 8. Warriors stepped it up from the previous quarter, almost tying up the scoreboard.

The 3rd quarter was a continuing saga from the previous. Both teams almost scored on each other in the beginning. This time Rio picked up their defense. So did the Warriors though. A noticeable adaption that the Warriors changed was that their two tallest players filled up the key, making it hard for the Lady Panthers’ point guard Kaylee to drive the ball up for a layup. These changes and a number of others led the Warriors to tie up the score at 12-12 nearing the end of the quarter. The Panthers called for a time out. It was a very tense moment in the game. Under the 2 minute mark, neither team could breathe. Neither of them let the other pass without some pressure. It was an overwhelming feeling being at a tie score this late in the championship game. Out of gas, neither team scored a point for the duration of 3rd quarter.

The 4th quarter was a nail biter and it determined the victor by a small margin. Both teams played as solidly on defense as they could until the Warriors finally hit a jump shot. But Rio retaliated with a 2 pointer of their own. And the Warriors retaliated again with their own. Now both teams were playing super aggressive, not giving any breathing room to the other. Both teams were tied at 16-16 until the Panthers’ Kaylee managed to score 1 point on a free throw. Rio was on the winning side. This was soon followed by a 2 pointer from the Warriors. A cheer in crowd broke out, “Let’s go Panthers,” filling the gym. It was 18 (Warriors)- 17 (Panthers). The Warriors managed to score a free throw and then follow it up with another two in the process despite the overwhelming Riverview crowd. This was retaliated by the lady Panthers scoring a 2 pointer. Under the 1 minute mark, Rio was losing. They had to pick it up fast and find some opportunities to get the ball in the basket. They just couldn’t do it and eventually it was just too late for the home team. The Warriors won 22 to 19, ending the Lady Panthers dream season.

Both teams were emotional at the conclusion of an intense game. Some cried for joy. Some cried for sadness.

The Lady Panthers’ coach, LuAnn Haley was proud of her team regardless of the outcome. Having coached them all season, she said, “The Lady Panthers had phenomenal improvements. They leaped in skill and overcame their bounds. There were improvements of dribbling and free throws. You can tell the efforts they put in and the results show.”

For some of the Lady Panthers players, this will be their final year. They will be graduating up to high school where some will continue their basketball careers. “It’s bittersweet,” Haley said. “We’re losing some good players but we’re gaining some good ones in the process.”

Top two scorers for the Lady Panthers include: Kaylee Kitchens with 11 points and Kaitlyn Oconnor with 4 points.

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