DIXON – In a battle of large cats, the Eastland Cougars defeated the United Township Panthers 53-49 Friday night in a Dixon Holiday Tournament quarterfinal matchup.
Eastland was led offensively by the 1-2 post punch combo of junior Lexis Macomber and senior Hannah Hake.
United Township jumped out to a 7-2 lead, as Hake struggled to find the bottom of the net early on. That was enough to give the Panthers a 10-8 lead after the first quarter.
This is where Macomber stepped up. She made a quick bucket to knot it up at 10-10, then made another to tie it up again at 12-12. She scored eight of her 15 points in an 8-minute stretch in the first two quarters.
After these aggressive baskets, Macomber then fooled the Panthers by making a pair of quick assists to Hake and senior Izy Todd.
"We tried to not guard them as tight as we would have liked to," Eastland coach Colleen Henze said, "because we knew they were a lot quicker than us. We also tried to not let them get second-chance opportunities. I know that didn't always happen, but we did a pretty good job considering they were pretty big."
The powerful duo down low for the Cougars bent the Panthers, but could not break them. Macomber and Hake both were stuck in the heads of UT, as they continued to threaten the Panthers offensively, and more importantly, get the large, physical Panther posts out of position when vying for rebounds.
Coming out of the locker room with a mere 22-20 lead at halftime, the Cougars came out firing on all cylinders.
Leading the charge was Hake, who scored back-to-back baskets to start off the half. She scored 10 of her 16 points in the third quarter.
Her stellar start to the quarter opened up a lot offensively for Eastland, which started burning UT on backdoor cuts for wide-open layups.
"Megan Janssen loves to backdoor cut people," Henze said. "That is kind of what we decided to do, is put her on a wing so she could make cuts. We put our point guard at the other wing so she could pass, and it worked out pretty nicely."
"Third quarters are usually our toughest quarter," Hake said. "I don't know why, but it has always been that way for us. I think we realized we needed it because they are a good team. We know they were quick and good shooters."
This blew the game open for the Cougars, who held a 42-30 lead heading into the final quarter.
However, the Panthers would not back down.
They cut the lead to four with 2:18 left in the game. This comeback came thanks to more aggressive play from the UT posts, as well as scrappy guard play.
"Our team knows that when we get jittery out there," Hake said, "we throw the ball away. We don't play as a team. But when we are calm, we have more fun. It goes smoothly, we know what we're supposed to do."
After a Panther foul, the Cougars inbounded from the sideline near midcourt.
Macomber down-screened for Hake on the block, who recieved the pass in the corner. Macomber's defender hedged hard on the screen, which left Macomber wide open on the block for an easy basket.
"They worked pretty well together tonight," Henze said about Macomber and Hake. "They both played smart tonight, and made good passes to each other. They can do that, and they did it when we needed it from them. We really needed it tonight, and we got it."
After an exchange of turnovers, the Cougars had to inbound the ball from under the Panthers' basket.
Another play was once again executed to perfection to ultimately seal the game for Eastland.
A UT press was dialed up, and this included face-guarding. As the Cougars set screens, senior Courtney Walker took off towards her basket. A baseball pass was thrown on the money to Walker, where she got fouled on the way to a layup by the trailing Panther defender.
Walker made both free throws to ice the game, securing Eastland the 52-49 victory.