The Monroe City girls basketball team held onto its lead with late free throws for a 71-59 win over Paris in the semifinals of its invitational.
Cody Leonard had seen it before. Less than a week ago, the Monroe City girls basketball coach witnessed his Lady Panthers team surrender a double-digit lead before needing overtime to defeat Paris.
For a moment Wednesday night, it looked like it could be deja vu all over again.
A 20-point lead dwindled down to nine points.
But this time, the Lady Panthers sank 7 of 9 free throws in the final 2 minutes, 2 seconds for a 71-59 win over Paris in the semifinals of their own invitational.
“A win is a win,” Leonard said. “It took a few discussions during timeouts to get them to understand we have a lead so let's make sure we keep it this time.”
Allison Moore gave Paris a 14-13 lead on a rebound basket with 2:11 left in the opening stanza.
It would be the last time the Lady Coyotes were on top.
Delanie Okenfuss knocked down back-to-back shots from behind the arc to give the Lady Panthers a 19-14 lead heading into the second period.
The senior guard then connected on another trey in the second quarter, as the Panthers lead grew to 29-14 with 4:29 left before the half.
“They left me open and I was just feeling it so I kept shooting,” Okenfuss said of the trio of 3-pointers.
Paris missed its first eight free throw attempts and finished the first half just 1-for-9 from the line. The inability to connect at the charity stripe kept the No. 4 seeded Coyotes behind 36-25 at intermission.
“There were a few things which led to us getting behind and them going the (16-0) run,” Paris coach Garrett Thomas said. “We usually do not shoot the ball that poorly.”
Foul trouble also led to the Lady Coyotes falling behind.
Moore and Drew Lockhart both picked up two early fouls in the first half.
Attacking the rim was a point of emphasis for Monroe City, despite Paris having a 6-foot-5-inch post player in Tori Hamilton to deal with in the middle.
“Our goal was to attack when given the opportunity,” Leonard said. “We did not want to shy away. We knew if went straight at them good things could happen.”
Moore, who scored 21 points in the Lady Coyotes tournament opener against Mark Twain Monday night, fouled out of the game with 5:02 left in the third period.
Lockhart would eventually foul out of the game as well.
Monroe City cashed in at the line, connecting on 23 of 33 freebies.
“We were the ones committing a lot of fouls against them last week,” Okenfuss said. “So this time we didn’t just want to settle for shots we wanted to take it to them and take it to the rim.”
Despite the loss, Thomas was pleased with the way his team played against the top-seeded Panthers.
“The girls played excellent and did a good job of executing the game plan tonight,” the Coyotes coach said. “We did just about everything we could to put ourselves in a position to win. No matter the circumstances our girls are going to play hard at all times.”
Hamilton and Lockhart scored 14 points a piece in the loss. Hamilton also came down with five rebounds and blocked six shots.
Summers paced the Lady Panthers with a game-high 23 points in addition to 12 rebounds.
Delanie Okenfuss poured in 19 points, while Madi Hays (12), Lauren Youngblood (8) and Emilie Okenfuss (7) combined for 27 points in the win.
Monroe City (4-0) advances to Saturday night’s championship game and will face the winner between No. 2 seed Palmyra and No. 3 seed South Shelby.
“Our team played well tonight and I can’t wait to play in the championship game,” Delanie Okenfuss said.