Pekin girls clinch division before losing in conference shootout

The Pekin girls basketball team ended of their strong season by beating IMS 59-29 to claim the division title in the SEISC conference on February 1.

The Lady Panthers wrapped up their season with three games in the final week on January and opening days of February, of which they went 2-1. On January 30, the girls beat Winfield – Mt. Union 51-34 and then two days later hosted and beat Iowa Mennonite 59-29 to take the division title.

Pekin set itself up for a potential division title when they played IMS to open up the month of February, a game in which they dominated a majority of the time. The Lady Panthers came out with determination, knowing what was at stake, and put up 19 points in the first quarter. IMS also got into double digits, but Pekin kept its distance and continued to do so in the second quarter.

The Lady Panthers went into the half up 29-11, only 16 minutes away from taking control of the division. Still, they had to continue their pace of play on both ends of the floor in order to earn that achievement.

The third quarter went relatively slow in terms of action on the court, as the two teams combined to score 12 points. Pekin finished out the game with some big scoring, but also let up a number of points on the defensive end. The Lady Panthers put together 21 points on the offensive end of the floor, which allowing 15 from IMS. While the fourth quarter scoring aplenty, Pekin still came out on top with a resounding 59-29 win.

Maci Gambell had 22 points to lead all scorers, shooting just over 50 percent from the field. She also tacked on seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block. Haley Gambell had 13 points, shooting six of nine from the field, and also had five rebounds, five steals, four assists and one block. Zoey Wright and Faith Oostra combined for 13 points, while Emilee Linder had five points, Paige Winn had four and Cari Duwa had two points for the Lady Panthers.

The win was their 18th in a row and send them to compete for top spot in the conference. They struggled however, when they faced Central Lee at Iowa Wesleyan in Mt. Union on February 2 in the SEISC Shootout.

The Lady Panthers got off to a cool start in the biggest game of their season. Whitney Johnson provided an early spark by draining an open three, but not much else happened for the offense. The only other points came from a cutting Haley to the hoop, who then scored on a free throw following the basket. Despite the offensive struggles, the defense was able to keep things steady, holding Central Lee to single digits. The first quarter wrapped up with a 6-6 tie, unexpected from two high-scoring squads.

The offense found some more looks in the second quarter, as Oostra was inserted off the bench and had an immediate impact. On the defensive end, she recorded two blocks in only a few minutes of play, while on offense she had two put-back shots fall as a result of getting the offensive rebound. Haley and Whitney each hit and three and a free throw by Haley concluded the scoring for Pekin. They went into the half up 17-15.

Central Lee took over the second half, as the ball was passed a lot more among the Pekin players, but not many shots were taken. Wright made a three to cut into the deficit Pekin faced, but costly turnovers wound up hurting the girls' chances. Maci tacked on an additional two points by cutting to the basket late and getting the shot to fall.

"Defense was decent all game, our offense just didn’t move and we were slow. That's what it really came down to," Lady Panthers coach Davis Eidahl said. "It was just one of those nights where we didn't do anything."

The final quarter revolved around some foul trouble, as many of the Pekin starters either had four fouls at that point or picked up their fourth or fifth in the last few minutes of play. Oostra used her size in the post to score an early basket but proceeded to foul out in the middle of the quarter on a defensive play. Maci knocked down a couple free throws, and Haley made a basket near the bucket before also ending her night with a fifth foul. The resulting score was 30-38, as neither team could find any consistent play in the raucous atmosphere.

"The big thing is the girls got frustrated, a couple fouled out but it didn't change how we played," Eidahl said. "We didn't seem to come mentally ready to play.

Haley led the Lady Panthers with nine points, to go along with three rebounds and one steal. Maci, Johnson and Oostra had six points apiece while "Zooming-Zoey" Wright had the other three points. Maci had a team-high five rebounds, Wright had three steals and Oostra blocked three shots.

"We know what we need to work on and we'll go hard," Eidahl said. "Their attitude will be alright, they'll be ok. We need to be ready to go and come to play."

The Lady Panthers have a week off to prepare for a second-round district match against either Highland or Alburnett on January 13.