Pekin loses heartbreaker in OT

With less than two seconds left, Zoey Wright was able to narrowly get off a contested three to beat the halftime buzzer, tying the game at 16. Wright finished her evening with nine points, six of which came from behind the arc.

The Lady Panthers saw their season come to an end in heartbreaking fashion, as Grundy Center was able to outlast a difficult night offensively and beat Pekin in overtime. The two teams clashed on a neutral court in East Marshall, in front of a playoff-like atmosphere. Pekin had some chances to put away Grundy Center, but wound up falling on the losing end of a 36-44 effort.

    The first couple minutes of the game allowed each side to feel out their opponent, with not much scoring happening as a result. Haley Gambell knocked down an open shot from behind the arc, which put the Lady Panthers up 3-2 at the five-minute mark. There weren’t many uncontested Pekin shots throughout the game and hitting them when they could was crucial. The defenses continued to be the bigger story, as Pekin led 7-6 at the conclusion of the first quarter.   

    “All year round we may have been under-talented, but the girls’ work ethic and playing as a team had paid off,” Lady Panthers coach Davis Eidahl said. “This was the best team defense we played against all season and it was hard.”

    The scoring picked up a bit, as Grundy Center went on a run in the middle of the second, but Pekin was still within striking distance. Pekin had substituted Faith Oostra off the bench for some of the quarter, trying to slow down the shot opportunities Grundy Center had in the paint. The Lady Panthers were neck and neck up until the half, and finding themselves down by three, held the ball for the final possession of the quarter. With only a handful of second remaining, Zoey Wright found herself being heavily guarded behind the three-point arc. She pivoted on one foot, trying to find an open teammate, and with none apparent, hoisted the ball up to beat the buzzer, tying the game at 16 and getting a rouse out of the Pekin faithful.

    Another low scoring quarter ensued in the third, as turnovers and missed shots began to add up for both teams. Any basket brought loud cheers, as they were tough to come by all night long. Pekin found themselves downs 22-25 heading into the final quarter, despite enduring a string of points from Grundy Center.

    The Lady Panthers responded with a run of their own in the first half of the fourth quarter, going on a 5-0 run and limiting Grundy Center to two points along the way. That push by the offense had Pekin up 30-27, but things didn’t get any easier. Some fouls began to add up for Pekin, including a fifth foul on Oostra, which ended her night midway through the fourth. The defense still held its ground, allowing three points in a four-minute span, but the offense was held scoreless. Pekin scored two points to put themselves up, but Grundy Center matched them to tie the game at 32 with five ticks left. Grundy Center had the ball for the final possession, but missed on a three-point attempt, which sent the game into extra time.

    Pekin struggled at times in the overtime, in which Grundy Center took advantage to take any early lead. Some missed shots and turnovers hurt the Lady Panthers, as each possession was more important than the last down the stretch. With 18 seconds left, Pekin trailed 35-40, and the deficit slowly grew as Grundy Center tacked on at the free throw line. One made for Pekin, in addition to four by Grundy Center, provided the games final points.

    “They played hard and our defense played hard,” Eidahl said. “They had only lost one game and averaged over 60 points, you can’t ask for anything more from our girls. I feel bad for them, but heck of a season.”

    Haley led the Lady Panthers with 13 points, shooting five of seven from the field, and three of five from behind the arc. In addition to her effective shooting, Haley grabbed seven rebounds and had four steals, both team highs. Wright had nine points, three of which came from the free throw line, four steals, two rebounds and one assist. Emilee Linder also provided three points on one made three-pointer.

    The four seniors combined for the final 11 points, four from Paige Winn, four from Faith Oostra and three from Maci Gambell. Whitney Johnson was unable to score but did have three assists and a steal in her final game. Maci had six rebounds, four assists and one block.

    “Whitney, Paige and Faith never really played until this year, they were subs off the bench,” Eidahl said. “They stayed with it, setting a good example for girls who could’ve quit, but stuck it out and had a great year. I told them to keep their heads up, the sun will come up tomorrow.”