GIRLS BASKETBALL: Gardner-South Wilmington falls in Class 1A Regional Final
DWIGHT — The sad thing in the world of sports is that every good thing eventually has to come to an end.
Sadly for Gardner-South Wilmington, its 16-game winning streak and season came to an end on Thursday in a Class 1A Regional final with a 44-29 defeat at the hands of Kewanee Whethersfield.
“This was a weird game for us,” Gardner-South Wilmington coach Adam Leigh said. “We didn’t play our greatest game, but it wasn’t our worst either. We had nothing going offensively until late third quarter but it was just too big of a hole to get out of.”
Offense was not abundant in the first half for either side. The Panthers only made one shot from the floor, the first shot of the game from Kaitlynn Kavanaugh and it was free throws the rest of the way.
The Geese weren’t much better after leading just 6-4 into the second quarter, but relied on All-State forward Britt Litton to guide them through.
She responded with all eight of their second quarter points as they lead just 14-8 at the half.
“We played good defense and were happy about holding a team with an All-State player to just 14 points,” Leigh said. “But on the other hand, we didn’t look good. We had nothing going offensively and it didn’t help that Whethersfield was playing a matchup zone that we hadn’t seen all year.
“It really confused the girls and made them tense up. We had a few chances but everytime something looked promising, Whethersfield was right there and swarming all over us.”
Behind Litton, the Geese pumped their lead all the way up to 25-10 midway through the third quarter. But the Panthers weren’t about to go away easily.
They switched to a man defense opposed to the 2-3 zone they were previously playing and forced four turnovers. That led to Kennedy Fair hitting a 3-pointer, Emma Hennessy getting an offensive rebound and putback later followed by two free throws from Kavanaugh for a 7-1 run to end the quarter that cut the lead down to 26-17.
“We knew we could get the ball into the post, but that switch on defense made the difference,” Leigh said. “We weren’t face guarding (Litton), but we weren’t helping off of her either. We wanted to get our hands on some passes and create some intensity on the defensive end.”
The Panthers were able to keep up that intensity and eventually cut the lead down to 30-23, but the Geese were money from the free throw line connecting on 14-of-18 down the stretch to end the Panthers’ season.
Although it wasn’t the ending the Panthers were aiming for, their season as a whole couldn’t have gone much better.
They finished 24-5 (.821 winning percentage), which is the best season from a winning percentage perspective since 1986 along with that winning streak.
They ended 11-1 in the RVC and won a share of the conference title (Beecher) and all eight of their core players are back next season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this group and they should be proud of what they accomplished,” Leigh said. “Our last loss prior to this game was to Milford back in the Iroquois West Holiday Tournament back in December and we hit a groove from there. Whether it was 24-5 or 5-24, this was a fun group of girls who work hard and enjoy playing the game; I’m happy to be their coach.”
With the season all over, that also meant the end of the road for Panthers’ senior Cassidy Young.
While she didn’t play as much, she stayed the course and stuck it out which is what Leigh admired the most about the lone departing senior.
“She been dedicated to the program and played all four years,” Leigh said. “Having those four year players is a difficult find and it says a lot about her. She hung with it even knowing she might not play over the younger girls and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”