By REID TUCKER
The thing about buried treasure is you have to dig for it. The Paxton Lady Cats found that out the hard way when they came up against the Lady Pirates of Ponce de Leon in the two teams’ first-ever district meeting.
Treasure map jokes aside, Paxton’s girls really had their work cut out for them when they took on the 2012 1A state champs on their own court on the night of Dec. 6. A 19-17 first quarter score turned into a sizeable 35-27 halftime lead for the Lady Cats, who continued to hold on through the third period with a 52-43 advantage over their younger opponents. A not-exactly-easy but comfortable win looked to be a sure thing.
However, PDL fired a veritable broadside in the fourth quarter, unleashing a 4-for-9 salvo from the floor backed up by several successful trips to the foul line, outscoring Paxton 15-7 in the period thanks to five Lady Cats turnovers. The scoreboard locked at 59-58 with 11 seconds left , PDL high-scorer Hannah Howell had plenty of time to put in the middle-distance shots she’d been making all night. The Lady Cats, playing more aggressive defense than even they’re used to, had Howell under three-to-win coverage and, try as she might, her shot from just feet away came up short at buzzer to give Paxton the one-point win.
“[The Lady Pirates] were going to battle and I knew they had another run in them, but we just kept fighting,” said Paxton head coach Steve Williams. “Ponce is a very good team and they have a great tradition of basketball here. To get a win on the road here is huge. We’re lucky the clock ran out when it did, but I’ll take that.
“We haven’t played them in years, but this is and will be a great rivalry. We have to watch out, because we’ll have to play them on our court soon enough.”
Paxton’s top shot on the night was, once again, Bethany Neale, who scored 28 points in Paxton’s generally dominant first half. Neale scored nine times from the floor, with three 3-pointers to her credit, and she went 7-for-8 at the foul line. Two other Lady Cats got into double digits: Emily Murray scored 17 points, four of which helped buoy Paxton through the challenges of the final minutes, and Quinn Williams contributed 11 points all told, back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in the third quarter among them.
As for the Lady Pirates, Delilah Bass and August Brown supported Howell’s 24 points with 14 and 12 of their own. Both Bass and Brown had a mixture of 2-pointers and perimeter shots over the course of the contest, and both scored critical 3s in the fourth quarter when Ponce de Leon was making its come-back run.
Ponce fell to 4-4 overall and 3-2 in Class A’s District 1 after the close call against Paxton, and though the Lady Cats were undefeated, they fell to Malone in another district contest this Monday, putting them at 6-1, 3-1 early this season.
The Paxton boys’ squad, on the other hand, got an easier 67-44 win at Ponce, followed by a 91-81 win at Malone on Monday to stay unbeaten in four district contests and seven games altogether. Even bigger news is that the back-to-back wins gave Paxton boys’ coach Jeff Bradley his 299th and 300th wins, tying and surpassing famed Bobcats coach Phillip Anderson’s longstanding record as the county’s leader in total hoops wins.
The Pirates are off to a better start this year at 3-3 overall but as of now are 1-2 in district play with a full schedule ahead of them.
The Bobcats made better than 50 percent of their shots from the floor in the first half to turn a 17-8 first quarter lead into a 32-12 spread at the intermission thanks to a 15-4 second quarter advantage over their hosts. The third quarter was closer, with both teams relying on their big freshman players – Zach Varnum for Paxton and Nicholas Price for Ponce – but the ‘Cats had more pull, surging to 50-29 going into Q4. Though the Pirates scored 15 points in the fourth quarter it wasn’t enough to stave off Paxton’s cruise to victory by a 23-point margin.
Paxton’s Desmond Moore led the charge in PDL, with 24 points to his credit (he scored 22 in the first half alone and didn’t see many minutes in the second half), but Varnum turned in 15 points – all in the second half and all in the paint – to balance out the equation. Ponce de Leon’s Price was his team’s high-scorer on the night with 12 second-half points including six by way of shots from the arch.
By REID TUCKER