Wrap up of Saturday's game and plans for the future.
Franklin High School's Lady Panthers entered the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's Fleming Stadium with a chip on their shoulder. When they secured their win against East Rutherford just four nights earlier, they had made school history by advancing the further into the state playoffs than any other FHS women's basketball team ever had. As a result of their epic regional semifinal win, they were now set to play the Bandys Lady Trojans, a team who entered the Western Regional championship undefeated and with their closest game being decided by 20 points. In other words, the Lady Trojans had been dominant in their season.
Both teams played tough opponents on Tuesday night in consecutive games. Franklin played prior to Bandys and was able to scout the team and see what they were up against. The general consensus was that Bandys was good, but also that they were beatable.
"We decided that if we could make them play our game and push them to a half court man to man, then we could play them tough," Coach Scott Hartbarger said.
The Lady Panthers were able to push the Trojans to their limits in a game that saw Franklin take an eight point lead as they went to the locker room at the end of the first half. As the third quarter took off, it appeared as though Bandys was getting their rhythm and Franklin may have been losing some of their's despite holding a five-point lead to start the fourth. In the last period of regulation, Franklin was outscored 15 to 10, but despite losing their lead, they were able to tie it up as time expired sending the game into overtime.
The teams were given four minutes to bring a conclusion to the contest and again saw the lead shift between the teams and once again finding themselves tied as time got short. With around 30 seconds left on the clock, the Trojans brought the ball up the court, but Franklin forced the turnover. With a timeout called, the Panthers inbounded the ball in a last ditch effort to take home the win, but was instead called for a charging foul. The Franklin crowd heavily disagreed with the call, but that wasn't going to sway the referees. By that point in the game, Sarah Henson and Vanessa Agrusa had each earned four fouls while Tory Agrusa went out with her fifth.
"When our players got into foul trouble it played into our strategy. We weren't able to play as agressively and attack the basket like we would have liked," said Hartbarger. "They had to hold back or risk leaving the game early."
In the second overtime, Bandys pulled ahead by five before Franklin's Kaitlin Bishop was able to shorten the lead to three and thus give the team one more breath of life. The Lady Panthers fought hard but were never able to get within reach again as time expired. Bandys won the Western Regional championship by a score of 71-65 and will advance to the 2-A NCHSSA Championship that will take place at N.C. State University on Saturday.
The Lady Panthers tallied points from several key players: Sarah Henson 19, Tory Agrusa 5, Mariah Wallace 11, Kaitlin Bishop 3, Vanessa Agrusa 18, Alexis Taro 4, Kirsey Apel 1.
Wallace and Henson led the team in rebounds with 16 and 11 respectively.
“It was a very good high school basketball team,” said Hartbarger. “You know, we would get ahead and then they would take a run and it was back and forth. Unfortunately the game went to double overtime and we made some mistakes at some inopportune times. We couldn't capitalize when we should have.”
At the press conference that took place following the Regional game, Bandys head coach Kyle Moretz fielded more than a couple of questions about the team's first real test of the season.
“Since I've been coaching, that was the craziest game I think I've ever seen,” said Moretz. “It was a dog fight from start to finish.”
Following the win, Henson and Agrusa were named to the All-Tournament team and were also included in the 2013-2014 All Conference selections along with teammates Mariah Wallace and Tory Agrusa. Leading up the game, the Lady Panthers had already added conference and sectional championships to the mantle.
"I'm proud of these girls. They've accomplished so much this year. They were undefeated at home, won conference and won sectionals. I stressed to them that they had a lot to be proud of regardless of how the Bandys game went," Hartbarger said.
Next year's team will be without Henson and Bishop, but will return starters Wallace and the Agrusas. The 2014-2015 season could see the Lady Panthers make yet another drive deep into the state playoffs.
"Next season is going to be exciting. We're going to have seven or eight girls coming back that have been playing together since middle school. I think we're going do well," said Hartbarger.