They say the best offense is a good defense. In regards to the South Iron Lady Panthers, that old adage holds true, but it helps to have a great offense as well. Both aspects of their game were on full display this weekend as the Panthers ripped through St. Paul Lutheran and Bunker to earn their seventh consecutive Class 1 District Championship.
South Iron, with their immaculate 25-2 record, had the luxury of the top seed and a first round bye. That ushered them directly to the Semifinals, where they wasted no time in dispatching the Giants 73-26. In the Finals, the Eagles didn’t fare much better as the Panthers swatted them out of the sky with a convincing 70-33 victory. The defense was as smothering as a concrete blanket and the offense was firing on all cylinders throughout, punching South Iron’s ticket to the State Tournament.
Now to break down the games. On Thursday against St. Paul, the Panthers struck early and often, going up 29-6 after one quarter of play. Madison Ayers had 11 points and Allecia Cornell added 10 to open up a huge lead. Then Anna Parker erupted in the second for nine of South Iron’s 19 points and just like that, the Panthers had a commanding 48-11 lead at the half.
After the break, the top-seeded girls made sure the win was a foregone conclusion with a 17-5 third quarter, helped by six more from Parker, and then they let the starters take a break. The bench chewed up minutes in the fourth and, although they were outscored 10-8, it was more than enough effort to secure the victory.
The defense was incredible, forcing 30 turnovers and creating easy transition buckets going the other way. Parker paced the scoring with 21 points, and Ayers was right behind her with 17. Cornell just eclipsed a baker’s dozen with 14 of her own and the team hit six three-pointers and made 15-of-20 from the charity stripe.
The Panthers had bulldozed their way into the finals.
On Saturday they took on a second-seeded Bunker squad for all the marbles, and everything went according to plan. Another hot start paired with more stifling defense catapulted South Iron to a ridiculous 30-8 lead in the first quarter. Ayers hit a pair of threes and racked up 12 points, while Parker hit a pair of her own from downtown and had eight in the frame.
The second quarter was a little closer at 18-13, but South Iron still managed to add to their lead. Parker and Ayers each made good from beyond the arc again and the game stood at 48-21 when the halftime buzzer sounded.
After halftime the Panther defense took over. They put up 15 points, highlighted by Enzley Dinkins‘ three buckets, and held the Eagles to just three measly points. That pretty much put the game out of reach and South Iron was able to get the subs some minutes in the fourth once again. Just like last game, they were barely outscored (9-7), but the damage had already been done.
The final buzzer sounded with 70-33 on the scoreboard and the Panthers rushed the court in celebration for the seventh straight time. Assistant Coach Jeff Ayers talked about the game plan and how his girls adhered to it, saying, “We came out firing on all cylinders in the first quarter. Our defense led to several transition buckets which helped us to a 30-8 lead. We forced 27 total turnovers which helped us keep the separation throughout the game. At halftime the game plan was to keep pressuring the ball and attacking on offense.”
The plan was executed to perfection, and the starters really stepped up in this one. Parker led the team once again with 21 points, but Ayers was nipping at her heels with 20 of her own. Both girls drained threes from downtown in their dominant performances. Dinkins was a force in the paint and poured in 17 points on eight buckets to cap off the double-digit scorers.
It’s been a banner season for the Panthers, but it’s not over yet. Winning Districts is nothing to scoff at, but these girls have their eye on a State Title. They’ll get their chance on Tuesday as they will take on a Delta team who is 24-3 on the season. The completion will only get tougher the deeper South Iron gets in the tourney.
Good luck Panthers!