Watseka falls to PBL in SVC Tournament Championship
CLIFTON — After 68 days and 23 straight wins, Watseka finally was handed its first defeat of the season Saturday, losing 42-39 at the hands of Paxton-Buckley-Loda in the Sangamon Valley Conference tournament championship game.
A tremendous defensive performance from the Panthers drastically hampered the Warriors’ normally potent attack — and even held them entirely scoreless in the third quarter.
Watseka led for the entirety of the first half, but getting blanked in the third is what did them in.
“We have enough girls who can shoot that ball that I don’t think tonight is a big concern, but that third quarter really sticks in my mind,” Watseka coach Barry Bauer said. “We’re going to have to talk about it. It was only 12 to nothing, but it felt like it was really 30-0.”
They crept back into contention late after trailing by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter to knot things up at 39 with less than a minute remaining in regulation, but two clutch free throws from senior guard Liberty Jamison with 15 seconds left put the Panthers ahead for good.
After missing two free throws with no time left in the third quarter after a Natalie Schroeder technical foul, sinking the two foul shots that put the game on ice was a relief for Jamison.
“I missed those two technical free throws, so I think it was more about redemption for me than anything else,” Jamison said. “Either you seal the deal or you don’t, and this time, I was ready for it.”
Jamison finished with a game-high 21 points in the win and knocked down five 3-pointers along the way.
Picking up a conference tournament win and taking down an undefeated team to do it was a huge accomplishment for the Panthers and their first-year head coach Nathan Lawler, especially after a slow start to the season back in November.
“This is my first year as coach, and through the first six games, we were 3-3 and lost to some teams right now that are only .500, but we never lost faith in our system,” Lawler said. “They kept buying into our hard hat mentality. We always say as iron sharpens iron, teammates sharpen teammates.”
The loss for Watseka is a disappointing one that came at an inopportune time, but the Warriors still boast a stellar 23-1 record, and they won’t have to wait long to get another crack at the Panthers.
“You could tell (P-B-L) came out, and we had a target on our back. They played extra hard,” Bauer said. “But we’re going to play them again Thursday, possibly for the regular season conference title, and heading into the postseason, its only going to help both teams.”
Before Watseka has a chance for revenge, it hosts Prairie Central on Tuesday.