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Lions edge Panthers at Hanneman Gym

By Sue Sitter - | Jan 23, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Rugby guard Sarah Blessum looks for a path around Bishop Ryan defenders on the Panthers’ home court Jan. 15.

Rugby High School’s Lady Panthers faced more than the Bishop Ryan Lions in Rugby’s Charlie Hanneman Gym the evening of Jan. 15.

The team contended with injuries and small but costly lapses resulting in a narrow 47-44 loss to the Lions late in the game’s fourth quarter.

“We didn’t do the little things right, the little things we talked about in practice,” Coach Jennifer Brossart said. “That killed us.”

The game began with a 4-0 Panthers lead thanks to shots by forward Isabella McCabe and guard Tesha Sobolik. The Lions fought back with three pointers from guards Sylvie and Nora Kramer. Both teams traded leads from that point, ending the first quarter with a 12-12 tie.

The Lions continued with their three-point shot successes, with both Kramers landing the distance shots along with forward Sydney Upton.

Guard Sarah Blessum also landed a shot from the outside in addition to sinking a bucket on a rebound. A two-point shot from McCabe added to the Panthers’ seven-point total for the second quarter, but the Lions pulled ahead for a 25-19 lead at halftime.

The Panthers worked hard in the third quarter, scoring 13 points to the Lions’ nine. Mykell Heidlebaugh, a Panthers forward recovering from an ankle sprain came back onto the court after missing a week of play. Heidlebaugh charged through Lions defenders to land a bucket. Two more came from McCabe along with outside buckets from Blessum and guard Anna Johnson. Both teams missed several scoring opportunities when shots went astray.

Trailing by one basket at the start of the fourth quarter, the Panthers upped their aggression. Forward Kendyl Hager sank a three-pointer as Lions swarmed around McCabe and Heidlebaugh, who both took shots at the free throw line.

Heidlebaugh’s turn for bonus shots came after a Lions defender tripped her. Heidlebaugh had gone into the game recovering from a sprained ankle sustained a week ago.

Lions forward Jordyn Lundeen sank two from inside the paint. Upton and Sylvie Kramer made good on free throws before a final push from McCabe, who put the Panthers ahead 44-43 after drawing a foul that gave her bonus shots.

A Rugby foul on Rovig brought her to the free throw line, where she tied the score at 44 apiece. More Lions bonus points and a bucket by Upton gave Bishop Ryan the 47-44 win.

Brossart called the Panthers’ mistakes “costly” after the game. “We’ve got some of the most experienced players in the state, and that’s not counting Brooke and Riley,” she said, referring to center Brooke Blessum and forward Riley Grove, who are on the bench this season due to injuries.

“Then of course our play at the end – we’ve just got to get it in,” Brossart said of missed shots by the Panthers. “Get it in, get the ball, they’re going to follow us. We were up by one. That was – one play doesn’t make the game. It just doesn’t. We made some free throws when we had to, and you know, Ryan played a better game than we did tonight.”

“We had mental lapses and you can’t do that against a very good team,” she added. “They shot the ball extremely well from the outside.”

“I thought tonight (McCabe) was perhaps our best offensive player and our best defensive player tonight,” Brossart said of the Panthers. “And that’s what we need for her to continue.”

Brossart said she hoped the Panthers would support struggling players. “That’s what we have to do as a team. If somebody’s down, we’ve got to pick them up and do better.”

“We tested Mikell (Heidlebaugh) a little bit; a lot more than we wanted tonight,” Brossart said. “It was really supposed to be a few minutes, win or lose, it didn’t matter. But she played well for us down the stretch. Obviously, that last play, she pushed off adrenaline. She had it going, but unfortunately, she got caught,” Brossart added.

Brossart said she didn’t know yet if Heidlebaugh would play in their next game, set for Kenmare the next day.

The Panthers would fall to the undefeated Honkers 49-40.

Brossart said district games were the Panthers’ main focus.“That’s our bottom line – our district season,” she said. “These other games are preparing us for that district season. We prided ourselves on getting that one seed going in the district tournament, and that’s what matters. Because come tournament time, we’re zero to zero. No records matter as much as playing your best basketball at the right time. So, I don’t think we’ve come close to our best basketball. Do I think there’s a lot of our best basketball ahead of us? Absolutely.”

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