SURPRISE — Before his team’s 3A first round playoff matchup with Northwest Christian, Paradise Honors Head Coach Parrish Tatum was determined to press the Crusaders into submission.
In the end, Tatum’s Lady Panthers did just enough to capture a 31-30 grind-it-out victory over the Crusaders on Tuesday night at the PHHS gymnasium.
“It was a real grind tonight. We like to press and play that 1-3-1,” explained Tatum, whose squad forced more than 20 turnovers. “We sped up the tempo and created more opportunities offensively. We have some fast, aggressive girls so we have to take advantage of that.”
The game was far from pretty, but the excitement level was near a fever pitch in the final three minutes. Up by 1 with 2:55 left, Paradise Honors’ Maddy Cox drained a massive 3-pointer, the Lady Panthers’ only trifecta of the evening, to put the home team up 31-27.
Thirty seconds later, PHHS guard Hallie Karren and NCS post Anna Hunter experienced a hard collision near midcourt. The two players accidentally knocked heads and Karren came out of the game.
She went through concussion protocol and later returned to the battle with a massive knot on the left side of her forehead.
On the next possession, Crusader Izzy Ortwine was fouled and made 1-of-2 free throws to cut the deficit to 31-28.
With a minute left, the Crusaders had a chance to tie with a 3-pointer but a costly turnover handed the ball back to Paradise Honors.
“Turnovers and missed shots hurt us tonight,” NCS Head Coach Julee Hoffner said. “We couldn’t knock down a shot to save our life.”
The Lady Panthers immediately returned the favor by getting whistled for carrying the basketball. This time, Abigail Silverberg cashed in for the Crusaders as her layup cut the PHHS lead to 31-30 with 20.6 seconds left in the game.
Tatum used the following timeout to calm down his Lady Panthers.
“When you have a young team, the playoff atmosphere and pressure can kind of get to them,” Tatum said. “We needed to just take a breath.”
Paradise Honors had no trouble getting the basketball inbounds to Karren, who was quickly fouled. But on her first attempt of the 1-and-1 free throw scenario, the Lady Panthers were whistled for a lane violation as Tatum looked to the heavens in disbelief.
Despite all the miscues, Northwest Christian amazingly still had a shot to win the playoff contest as the clock ticked down. The Crusaders ran their set to perfection and Silverberg was open for a 15-foot jumper from the right baseline with under 10 seconds to go.
The shot looked good from a midcourt perspective but barely glanced off the rim. The Crusaders fumbled the ball out of bounds on the ensuing scramble and following another timeout, PHHS’ Hannah Everingham was able to dribble out the clock on the final possession as the Lady Panther bench exploded with jubilation.
Paradise Honors (15-9), who starts a pair of 10th graders, relied on sophomore Scarlet Eberlein to spark them early in the game.
As her teammates struggled to get their footing, Eberlein knocked down two putbacks, a driving layup and a 15-foot bank shot to put Paradise Honors up 8-5 with 3:39 left in the first.
“Pretty cool,” Eberlein said after the game. “I was hyped. I mean, this is the playoffs.”
Northwest Christian countered with layups by Ortwine and Anna Herbert and the teams were tied 9-9 after the initial stanza.
“We were letting their pressure get to us and we rushed some shots,” Hoffner said. “We didn’t let the game come to us and we weren’t seeing the open man up the floor at all. Their press bothered us early but then we were OK.”
The Lady Panthers seized the momentum early in the second quarter. Addison Sandusky hit a corner jumper and Karren added a layup. Adelle Boxberger nailed a pair of free throws and after Eberlein scored on another putback, Paradise Honors suddenly had a 17-9 advantage.
Two Ortwine free throws and a short connection by Silverberg cut the PHHS lead to 17-13 before Cox used a pretty post move to score a bucket while getting fouled. The successful free throw made it 20-13.
Jordan Van Metre and Sophie Hubby kept NCS close with buckets but the Panthers held a 24-18 halftime lead. Both teams shot poorly in the first half but the defensive intensity was off the charts.
As the second half began, Northwest Christian (21-7) slowly chipped away at the Lady Panther lead. Four straight points by Jane Hunter got the Crusaders within 24-22. Eberlein and Hubby each split their respective free-throw chances to make it 25-23.
Another Cox connection from the charity stripe extended the lead to 3 but Ortwine hit two shots after being fouled to cut the PHHS lead to 26-25.
At the 4:02 mark, Anna Hunter nailed a 15-footer to give NCS just their second lead of the game at 27-26. But Eberlein quickly countered with her own post move to give the home team the lead again, setting the stage for a wild final 3 minutes.
In the postgame, the Crusaders were lamenting 13 free throws they missed in the game but Hoffner still had a reason to smile after the 1-point loss.
“My girls played the hardest they have all year from a defensive standpoint. I am proud of them,” Hoffner said.
After the game, Tatum heaped praise on his 5-11 do-it-all sophomore.
“Scarlet, as a sophomore, is a beast,” the head coach said. “She can play inside or outside and she’s so versatile and athletic. She’s a nightmare matchup for other teams.”
Eberlein, as one of the team’s better ballhandlers, had the basketball in her hands dribbling through defenders in the crucial final minute of the game.
“It is uncommon for a taller player to do that but I’m going to do whatever I can for my team,” she said. “In that situation, I wanted to keep the clock running.”
Eberlein led all scorers with 13 while teammate Cox had 9. Karren added 4, Boxberger and Sandusky had 2 each and Alaysia Miles notched 1 point.
Senior Ortwine paced the Crusaders with 10 points. Jane Hunter tallied 6, Silverberg and Hubby had 4 each while Herbert, Van Metre and Anna Hunter scored 2 apiece.
With the win, the Lady Panthers earn a second-round matchup at second-seeded Page (22-5) on Friday at 7 p.m. Tatum is looking forward to the challenge.
“Our motto is to play full throttle for 32 minutes, never give up and play as a team,” he said. “That’s the mindset we will take up to Page.”