Archive for February 27, 2012

LADY PANTHER’S SEASON ENDS IN FINAL FOUR LOSS

Allison Lindley

Western's Allison Lindley guards the inbounds pass from Concordia's Annalissa Kammeyer in the IHSAA Class 3A North Semi-State at Warsaw.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

WARSAW – Some things just aren’t meant to be. Last Saturday in the Tiger Den at Warsaw Community High School was one of those days for the Western Lady Panthers basketball team. Playing in its first Final Four and the Class 3A North Semi-State, Western dug a first half hole it could not overcome en route to a 46-35 loss to No. 7-ranked Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School.

“We knew coming in that we had a very good opponent,” said first-year Western coach Chris Keisling. “They have a very nice club and hit shots early against our zone, so we got ourselves down.”

Western started strong as they took a 2-0 lead on an Amber Fernung basket on an assist from Nicole Rogers. Unfortunately, it would be the Panthers only lead of the game. While the Panthers held the Cadets to seven points below its scoring average, a nine minute scoring outage in the first half was too much to overcome. Western’s only other first quarter basket came from Rogers five minutes into the game as the Panthers trailed 12-5 after one. By the time Western scored at the 2:34 mark of the second, Concordia was on a 15-0 run and seemed to have the game in hand. The intermission scoreboard read Concordia 25, Western 10.

“A lot of it was Fort Wayne’s (man-to-man defense), but some of it was our first semi-state appearance,” said Keisling of Western’s nervous-looking start. “We had some unforced errors that caused us some problems. It was a new experience for our kids and it showed. I told them at half time to get their heads up, we are not out of this game, and we have a few things up our sleeve.”

What was up the sleeve was Rogers, who should have sealed her spot on the Indiana All-Star team with a 17 point third quarter that put the Panthers back in the hunt. In the middle of a Rogers 17-4 run on Concordia, she became the second leading scorer in girls Howard County hoops history. In what will go down as one of the best single-quarter individual efforts in Western basketball history, the IUPUI recruit hit four 3-pointers, a driving basket and a three-point play. She single-handedly cut the large Concordia lead to 29-27 before the Cadets called a pair of timeouts to adjust with three minutes left in the third stanza.

“We switched to a man defense and dialed up Nicole’s numbers,” said Keisling. “We ran her off a lot of screens to get her open; and she answered the bell. Wow, did she answer the bell. I told her after the game, ‘Kiddo, if there is an Indiana All-Star, I have to be looking at her.’ She put us on her back with 23 of our 35 points.”

Keisling was quick to point out that Rogers does not have that type of effort if not for her teammates picking up their game as well.

“And our guards came out in the second half and did a tremendous job,” he said. “They handled the ball, moved the ball and found Nicole coming off the screens. (The team had) great timing on the passes, and in so doing, penetrated the defense to get her open. Finally at the end, the legs started going and we couldn’t finish it out. What a phenomenal effort by our kids.”

Unfortunately, the rally drained an already low tank for Western, and they could not get past the seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter as the Cadets hit 9 of 11 free throws in the second half to seal the victory.

Western only hit 12 of 38 shots in the game. But there were silver-linings as they won the turnover battle (16-12) and had more steals (11 to 5) as they held the Cadets to 46 points – the squads fourth-lowest in a win.

Rogers finished her Western career with a 23 point, six rebound performance for a total of 1,593 career points – second only to Kokomo legend Tiffany Longworth in county history. Caitlyn O’Neal scored seven off the bench and twin sister Carley led the team in assists (4) and steals (3).

Despite the loss, Keisling was thrilled with the way his first season went, and he said he was very proud of the team.

“I am proud of my kids, all the way around,” he said. “These kids really bought in to what we were doing. I couldn’t have asked any more of these kids – they gave me everything. To see the effort they gave, knowing the adversity they had (five coaches in five years), it really moved me as a coach. I am just so proud and we achieved some really neat things. And we have a houseful of juniors and sophomores who had a chance to see this experience – what an advantage they have that they can take with them this summer and set some high goals.”

Western finishes its season with a school record tying 19 wins (19-6) and memories that will last a lifetime. Concordia (20-5) was led by the 14 points of Lauren Marinko and now advances to the state finals in Terre Haute next Saturday. They will play the south semi-state winner and second-ranked Mount Vernon of Fortville (23-5).

WESTERN LADY PANTHERS ADVANCE TO 3A FINAL FOUR

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

It turns out that the fifth time is the charm – at least for the Western Lady Panthers basketball squad. There have been five different head coaches on the Western sideline in the last five years, but it was the fifth one – Chris Keisling – who guided this squad to where no other coach has. Last Saturday, the Lady Panthers won its first-ever regional crown as they defeated South Bend St. Joseph’s 36-34 to claim the Class 3A Rensselaer Central Regional and earn a berth in the programs first Final Four.

“The first regional that Western has ever won, there is no way I can possible sleep tonight,” said an elated senior center Amber Fernung after the game. “I am so excited, it is unbelievable. It didn’t hit me it was the championship game until the last three minutes, and then, wow, it was unbelievable and crazy.”

The game was a defensive thriller – something the Panthers have specialized in during its tournament run. In fact, the squad has held nine consecutive opponents to under 45 points and six straight to under 40. Against St. Joseph’s, Western forced 23 turnovers and were led by the five second-half steals from sophomore guard Kiersten Durbin.

“Tonight it was Durbin and she was unbelievable on the top in terms of creating turnovers and capitalizing on those turnovers with big buckets with play after play,” said Keisling.

But when it was crunch time, Western looked to senior Indiana All-Star candidate and IUPUI recruit Nicole Rogers. Playing with four fouls, the sharpshooter drilled a step-back 3-pointer at the 4:08 mark of the fourth quarter to give Western a 32-29 lead – one they would not relinquish.

“But there came a point in the game and I called a timeout and said it is going to go to Nicole every possession; it has to touch her hands every time,” said Keisling. “That doesn’t mean she is going to shoot it, but needs to touch it.”

“We got the job done and we had a lot of confidence coming in – we knew we could win so it was just a matter of doing it,” said Rogers, who scored 23 points in the game. “I wasn’t worried about taking the three because I have confidence in our team to get it done.”

But the senior was not finished as she hit her second fourth quarter triple – and fourth of the game – to put the Panthers up by four with 1:51 left. The Lady Indians cut the lead back to one, but Durbin knifed in and made her final steal of the night and Allison Lindley was fouled driving to the basket. She hit the front-end of the one-and-one to give the Panthers a 36-34 lead. Lindley missed the second, but the Panthers withstood game-winning attempts from St. Joe to secure its place in Panther lore.

The road does not get any easier for Western (19-6) as it travels to the Class 3A North Semi-State at Warsaw High School. The Panthers face No. 7-ranked Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School (19-5) at 4 p.m., with the Class 4A North Semi-State between Penn (25-1) and North Central (21-5) to follow.

“We worked hard all week; we wanted this bad; we wanted to make history and we did,” said senior Lauren Taylor. “And we will work hard this week.”

Hard work will be needed if this team wants to reach its ultimate goal – the IHSAA girls basketball state finals in Terre Haute. And with this group, that goal is obtainable.

(Douglas Hockney contributed to this story)

 

SWEET SIXTEEN: LADY PANTHERS WIN FIRST SECTIONAL IN 23 YEARS

SWEET SIXTEEN: Western Lady Panthers won the IHSAA Class 3A West Lafayette Sectional.

 BY DEAN HOCKNEY

WEST LAFAYETTE – It was a celebration 23 years in the making and the girls of Western High School wanted to make it last. For the first time since 1989, the Lady Panthers advanced to the regional round of the state tournament after they downed Twin Lakes 58-28 in the IHSAA Class 3A West Lafayette Sectional. To say they were happy is an understatement.

“It feels great,” said first year head coach Chris Keisling, who could barely get through the post-game interview because so many fans were congratulating him on doing his part to end the drought and advance the Lady Panthers to its first-ever Sweet Sixteen. “I wanted it so badly for this team and the seniors. I can’t explain the joy I am feeling. The feelings are unbelievable.”

In the sectional, Western nearly made a laughing-stock of the competition as they held all three opponents to under 30 points. Despite not being ranked, Western (17-6) disposed of West Lafayette (47-29) Peru (72-26) and Twin Lakes (58-28), utilizing a suffocating defense and superior shooting – with an emphasis on the defense.

“I wasn’t even born yet the last time we won a sectional,” said junior guard Allison Lindley with a laugh. “So I am excited. We have played together for a long time. Our defense has been really solid and that is something we have worked hard on. We focus on defense and when our defense is on, it helps our offense.”

Jessica Givens agrees.

“We are built around defense and we have really played well in this tournament on defense,” said the sophomore. Givens had a huge tournament for the Lady Panthers. She entered the sectional averaging just over seven points per game, but poured in 13 against West Lafayette and Peru, and 16 in the decisive championship game. She hit 15 of 27 shots (55 percent) in the three-game series, including a 9 of 17 (53 percent) from beyond the arc.

But this team is built around the school’s all-time leading scorer and Indiana All-Star candidate Nicole Rogers – and that didn’t change during the sectional. Despite a cold shooting day against West Lafayette, she led the Lady Panthers in scoring and rebounding in all three games. She recorded a pair of double-doubles, including an 18 point, 16 rebound performance against Peru and a 27 point, 11 rebound championship game outing. And along the way she picked up her 500th point of the season and her 1,500th point of her career – the latter placed her third all-time in Howard County.

In the championship game, Rogers hit 3-pointers on two of Western’s first three possessions as the team opened an 8-0 lead against a Twin Lakes team that seemed overwhelmed from the start.

“That is exactly how I wanted to come out,” said Rogers, who had 11 of Western’s 15 first quarter points and her 29 points were more than the entire Twin Lakes team scored. “My team did a great job of getting me open and getting me the ball. I just came out hot and got our offense going, and everyone fed off of that. We said we would fight until the end, and we did. I don’t want this season to end.

“I am so proud of how this whole team played defense. That is what we wanted. It was great how we came out and kept them from scoring.”

Keisling – as he has all year – had nothing but praise for Rogers.

“She took the bull by the horns tonight,” he said. “What a performance. If she is not an Indiana All-Star, I don’t know what to offer up as an Indiana All-Star. She has driven the ball, handled the ball, rebounded the ball, shot the ball, passed the ball; I can’t say enough about her. She has been a team leader as well.”

Western has a special group of seniors – Rogers, Lauren Taylor and Amber Fernung – have successfully endured the stressful transition of a new head coach in each of their high school seasons. And the payoff is removing the monkey from the back of the Lady Panthers basketball program, and for the fourth time in school history, winning a girls basketball sectional title.

“It was worth the wait,” said Rogers. “This is so much fun. We knew we could do it – we are sectional champs!”