Last week the Lady Panthers of South Iron bulldozed their way through their opponents with wins over Jackson, Salem, Lesterville and Fatima. The four-game stretch extended the Varsity team’s winning streak to eight in a row and improved their overall record to 21-1 on the season.
The Panthers’ first test was a tough one in the form of the Jackson Indians. Head Coach Lawrence Graves spoke to the challenge with, “After watching some film, we knew Jackson was going to be a challenge for our team. They were big and strong and had some girls that could really play. These are the types of games that we really look forward to. Our sights are always on preparing for the postseason, and good games like this one are what we want.”
South Iron’s defense blanketed the Indians in the first half, holding them to just nine points, leading to a comfortable 24-9 lead at the break. They tacked on another 11 in the third quarter and kept Jackson at bay once more with just seven before easing up a bit in the fourth. The Indians won the final quarter 22-14, but the game was already well out of reach at that point.
The Panthers held on to win 49-38 and Coach Graves couldn’t have been prouder of his girls. “It’s the good teams that really show you what your weaknesses are. I thought our girls went into this game ready to compete. To hold a team like Jackson to 9 points in the first half was quite impressive. Our defensive effort was outstanding.”
Enzley Dinkins led the way in this one with 13 points, hitting all nine of her free throw attempts and was the team’s leading rebounder with six. Maddie Ayers was big at the line as well with seven of her 11 points coming from the stripe, and she was also a beast defensively with eight steals. Anna Parker and Drew Gayle were the other two players in double digits with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Next on the docket was the Salem Tigers, and the Panthers would use another stout defensive effort to cage their opponent. A 19-10 first quarter set the stage and South Iron wouldn’t look back. They won the next frame 17-10 and went into the break with a 36-20 advantage.
The second half was notably closer, but the Panthers still won the third quarter 15-12 to extend their lead heading into the final eight minutes. The Tigers won the fourth 10-6, but South Iron already had the game in the bag. The final score was 57-42 and marked the sixth win in a row for the surging Panthers.
Parker was the big gun in this one as she led all scorers with 17 points, helped by a 3-of-5 effort from downtown. She had plenty of backup though as Dinkins, Ayers and Allecia Cornell all had 11 points apiece. The defense was paramount though with 29 total rebounds, 15 deflected passes and eight steals.
As for the third game of the week, the Panthers hosted the Lesterville Bearcats on Senior Night. And they celebrated their lone Senior, Megan Lashley, with a 57-34 victory. Coach Graves gushed about his sole 12th grader, saying, “We are extremely proud of our lone Senior. Megan has been part of our Varsity squad for four years, and we are honored to be able to call her one of our own. She not only has turned into quite the athlete, but she has become a remarkable young woman. She is hard working, has a winner’s attitude and is a great teammate. While we were delighted to honor and recognize her as our Senior, we hate to see her go. She will go down as one of the winningest Lady Panthers in program history.”
In the game against the Bearcats the Panthers struck early and often. They went up 15-9 after the first and nearly replicated that total in the next frame as their 16-9 second quarter gave them a comfortable 31-18 lead at the break. The third quarter is where the wheels really fell off for Lesterville though. South Iron racked up a 20-7 advantage, setting the stage for a quiet fourth quarter and a 57-34 victory.
Ayers went nuts in this one as she drained 26 points, grabbed five rebounds and snatched nine steals. Gayle was the only other player in double digits with 10, and Lashley chipped in with a pair of points, two assists, six rebounds and two steals on her big night.
The final game of the week was the Panthers’ toughest test, as they took on the always formidable Fatima Comets after some scheduling changes. Coach Graves broke down the setup and prep against such a daunting foe by saying, “We were originally supposed to play Houston, but due to them needing the date to make up a conference game, we had the opportunity to pick up a really good Fatima team. We had seen them on film, but until we were able to set foot on the floor with them, we didn’t really know they were as big as they were. With our lack of size (and being down one player, Cornell, due to injury), we were going to have to execute a really good game plan.”
Execute they did, as the Panthers went up 9-4 in a defensively-tight first quarter to set the tone. The Comets fought back in the second though, as they won the frame 13-9 and trimmed South Iron’s lead to just one heading into the break. The second half kicked of the with Panthers roaring though with an 18-6 showing that put them firmly back in the driver seat. Fatima made a game of it, winning the fourth 23-20, but the late barrage wasn’t enough and the Panthers escaped with a 56-46 win.
Coach Graves spoke to the effort, saying, “Our defense was amazing and offensively we were able to find great shots all night. Drew Gayle had a great shooting performance pacing us offensively, but this was truly a team effort on both ends.” Gayle’s effort came in a 16-point package that included four three-pointers, while Ayers once again led the team in scoring with 21, and also was the best on the boards with nine rebounds.
The win was the eighth in a row for the Panthers and, with a 21-1 record on the season, the sky is the limit. State Championship aspirations are certainly on the table with this group and they will likely continue to terrorize opponents leading up to the district tournament.