In their final game of the regular season on Friday night, the young, upstart Blackford Bruins gave Jeff Liddick and the Eastbrook Panthers all they could handle.
However, a strong third quarter, and some better play in the post, proved to be the difference, as the Panthers head into sectional play on a high note after a 63-60 triumph over their CIC foe.
Blackford came out firing in the opening two quarters, scoring 20 points in the first eight minutes and eventually taking a six-point lead at the halftime.
Eastbrook, on the other hand, had their fair share of struggles, particularly in the paint, where they shot just four-of-15.
“I challenged the girls at halftime, ‘We know you are capable of hitting those shots. You guys have to focus on the rim. Don’t focus on the contact, focus on the rim, focus on the square.’ And defensively, I challenged them to turn it up a little bit, create some turnovers, and let our defense create some offense.”
Liddick’s words rang true, as the Panthers came out after halftime a much different team. They showed confidence in the paint, and they played with more grit and tenacity on defense, forcing the Bruins into turnovers, which they turned into easy baskets.
“At one point, we were six-for-six from the paint. We were getting steals. We were getting a little more aggressive defensively and making things a little more challenging for them.”
The Panthers turned their six-point deficit into a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, holding that advantage the rest of the way.
“Yes, we gave up too many points, but I was extremely proud of how we came out in the second half and executed offensively,” Liddick said. “We scored 40 points in the second half. If we start off a game like that, we will be pretty good going into tournament time.”
Sophia Morrison scored 21 to lead the Panthers, while Sehdah McKim dominated the second half, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Kristin Goff came off the bench and finished with 11 points and six rebounds, while Olivia Howell put together another solid, all-around performance with nine points and three steals.
Eastbrook will begin Sectional 39 play on Friday against either Blackford or Taylor, and Liddick hopes that the team he saw in the second half on Friday will be the team that shows up throughout their playoff run.
“A lot of good things happened in that second half that we want to see carry over into next week,” Liddick said. “It’s a much tougher sectional this year. I think every team that’s in the sectional this year returned almost everybody. We need to come in on Monday and focus on the things we did extremely well in the second half and let that be our focus as we head into whomever we play on Friday.”