Frantic finish boosts Central-Southeastern to championship of Lady Panther Classic

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The Central-Southeastern girls basketball players celebrate with the championship plaque after winning the 30th Lady Panther Classic with a 36-32 victory over Brown County on Saturday night in Camp Point, Ill. | Photo courtesy Mike Pritchard

CAMP POINT, Ill. — It’s never over til it’s over.

Somehow, the Central-Southeastern girls basketball team emerged Saturday night with the championship of the 30th Lady Panther Classic.

CSE’s 36-32 victory over Brown County was fueled by a frantic final 1 minute, 47 seconds that saw the Panthers score 10 of the game’s closing 13 points.

Sophomore Lauren Miller, a 5-foot-10 guard who also likes to float along the baseline, pocketed six of CSE’s closing eight points, including a pair of free throws with 2.7 seconds remaining to ice the verdict.

The Panthers’ harassing defense also forced four Hornets turnovers during the finishing rush.

“We kept calm and stayed focused,” said Miller, who led all scorers with 14 points, eight coming in the fourth quarter when CSE, ranked ninth in Class 2A, outpointed Brown County, ranked fifth in Class 1A, 15-7.

Miller tried to hold back a grin when quizzed about four pressure-packed free throws she sank in the final quarter. The first two gave CSE a 30-29 lead with 39 seconds remaining, and the final two wrapped up the victory when they upped the Panthers’ lead to an insurmountable four points with just two full ticks left on the clock.

“I won’t lie, I was nervous,” Miller said.

Miller’s fourth quarter also boosted her to the tournament’s individual scoring title. She collected 86 points in five games, a 17.2 per-game average.

“We did a good job of controlling the tempo,” CSE coach Matt Long said. “Our girls never allowed (Brown County) to speed the game up, which was a key.”

Long simply smiled and shook his head regarding the Panthers’ comeback in the closing seconds. The victory boosted CSE to 18-2 and dropped Brown County to 20-3.

“Our kids play hard until the final buzzer,” Long said. “We finished with the tank on empty.”

The Central-Southeastern girls basketball team poses for pictures after winning the 30th Lady Panther Classic championship Saturday night in Camp Point, Ill. | Photo courtesy Mike Pritchard

Brilyn Lantz seconded Miller with 10 points. Abbie McMillen added five points.

Brown County, which led 20-18 at halftime and 25-21 going into the fourth quarter, received 13 points from Katey Flynn and 11 from Klare Flynn. Gracie Hedden reeled in six rebounds, helping the Hornets to a 22-16 advantage on the boards.

“We had an opportunity to go up five (midway through the fourth quarter), but were indecisive,” Brown county coach Dave Phelps said.

Immediately after that, CSE began its 10-3 push to victory.

All three of Brown County’s losses have come in tournament championship games. The two earlier losses were to Unity in the Brown County and Beardstown tournaments.

“We had a good week, but this stings,” Phelps said. “This was a reversal of the (semifinal game) when we came back to win.”

Brown County reached Saturday’s title game by beating Unity 47-43 in the semifinals. The Hornets outscored Unity 19-10 over the final eight minutes.

Phelps said the game’s overall physical style benefitted CSE more than Brown County.

“Central is a physical team and likes to make you uncomfortable,” he said.

Miller agreed.

“(The refs) let us play,” she said.

That physical style may have also triggered CSE’s late charge when its in-your-face defense was forcing turnovers and creating full-court chaos over the final two minutes.

“We knew it was going to come down to defensive stops,” Miller said.

Phelps praised CSE for taking Brown County out of its game, especially at that important juncture late in the fourth quarter.

“Matt is the best girls basketball coach in the area,” Phelps said.

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