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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).

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!”

NICOLE ROGERS NAMED PLAYER OF THE WEEK FOR SECOND TIME

Nicole Rogers drives during the Howard County Girls Basketball Tournament.

A pair of school-record scoring performances headline this week's winners in the IBCA/Pacers-Fever Players of the Week program.

Leo junior A.J. Busche and Western senior Nicole Rogers each poured in 47 points to set respective school single-game records and earn honors in the awards program sponsored by the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever.

The duo was joined by Pike junior Zavier Turner, Columbus East junior Zach Martindale, Hauser senior Adam Miller, Wabash senior Kelsey Cromer and Loogootee senior Wynter Wagoner in claiming accolades for outstanding efforts.

All were cited for performances from Jan. 23-28, 2012.

Rogers received recognition in girls District 2 after leading Western (12-6) to two victories. The IUPUI recruit began with 18 points in a 51-44 victory over Tri-Central. The 6-0 wing shooter then unloaded for 47 points and tied her won school record with nine 3-pointers in a 92-42 triumph against Maconaquah. This is Rogers second Indiana player of the week award, and caps a sensational month in which she was also named the MVP of the Howard County Tournament. Rogers is currently second on Western's all-time scoring chart and has a very good chance of topping the list when the season is over.

Busche captured honors in boys District 1. He opened his week with 21 points as Leo roared to a 115-91 victory over Woodlan. The 6-2 forward followed with 47 points and 15 rebounds as the Lions (9-6) hit the century mark again in a 107-90 win over Whitko. Busche netted seven 3-pointers in his record-setting performance.

Turner collected accolades in boys District 2, while Martindale and Miller shared honors for boys District 3.

A 5-8 point guard, Turner scored 29 points, grabbed five rebounds and dealt even assists in leading Pike to an 84-62 victory at Bloomington South. The Red Devils improved to 10-5 overall and 5-0 in Conference Indiana with the result, their first win at Bloomington South in 10 years. Turner connected on 10-of-17 shots, 5-of-10 3-pointers and 4-of-4 free throws.

Martindale averaged 33.0 points over two games in earning recognition. The 6-3 Martindale tallied 37 points and 11 rebounds in leading Columbus East to a 76-55 victory over East Central. He followed with 29 points and eight boards in pacing he Olympians (7-7) to an 85-69 win over Bloomington North. For the two games, Martindale made 23-of-31 field goals and 20-of-23 free throws.

The 6-5 Miller averaged 30.0 points over two game to share honors. He netted 18 points with 10 rebounds in helping Hauser claim a 73-68 decision over South Decatur. Miller then produced 42 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists in propelling the Jets (9-5) to a 96-78 win at Batesville.

Cromer and Wagoner were respective winners for girls Districts 2 and 3, both reaching 1,000 career points in their only games of the week.

The 5-9 Cromer poured in 36 points in leading Wabash (14-5) to a 64-44 victory over Whitko. Cromer sank a 3-pointer midway through the third quarter to reach 1,000 points, one of her six treys for the game. She also grabbed six rebounds, dealt four assists and had two steals for the Apaches.

Wagoner, a 5-6 guard, netted 28 points as Loogootee (12-6) had to go to double overtime to outlast South Knox 53-46. She drained a first-quarter 3-pointer to surpass 1,000 for her career.

This is the fourth season for the Pacers-Fever Players of the Week program coordinated through the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association. Winners are chosen each week from each of the IHSAA's three districts. Girls winners will be chosen from now through the week following March 3. Boys winners will be chosen from now through the week following March 24.