The Chester Lady Jackets gave it their all, but Pinckneyville bested them 45-41 in the Class 2A regional tournament semi-final on Feb. 5, to end a solid season.
Before the game, Chester Coach Pat Knowles predicted a "great and competitive game."
"We are confident," he said. "Pinckneyville is good and they will bring it to us, but our girls believe that we can win."
Afterward, Knowles' comments seemed almost psychic. The #4-ranked Lady Panthers were the undisputed favorites against the #5 Jackets, but Chester came close to pulling off a huge upset, building an 8-point lead with only 6:10 left in the game. In that last 6:10, however, the better-staffed and more experienced Lady Panthers used every ounce of their skill and effort to chip away at the Chester lead.
Knowles used his starters for basically the entire game, introducing one bench player for several minutes in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Pinckneyville Coach Alan Engelhardt had a long and healthy bench of nine players in addition to his five starters.
Chester made it to the second round of the regional tournament by handily beating Trico, 62-30, in the first round.
Scrappy first half
Both teams played an up-tempo offense and were quick and scrappy on defense. The result was a two-point difference with Pinckneyville leading 7-5 after the first eight minutes.
Chester's Josie Kattenbraker scored the first points of the game just 30 seconds into the contest. Pinckneyville's Payton Morgan answered with a layup and Lily Tanner made back-to-back free throws to give the Panthers a 4-2 lead at 6:27.
Chester's Kendall Williams then took the ball to the hoop to tie the game at 4-4. Freshman Alyssa Seymour hit a free throw at 4:44 and CHS retook the lead, 5-4.
After several highly contested defensive stands, Pinckneyville's Haliegh Kling knocked down a 3-pointer with 3:36 left in the first period, giving the Lady Panthers a two-point lead, 7-5. Defense then ruled the rest of the first period as everybody went scoreless.
The second quarter started out the way the first one ended, with Kling hitting another three-pointer. PHS led, 10-5.
Chester then unleashed an 11-0 run that put CHS up 16-10 with 2:21 to play in the half. It started when Destiny Williams hit a 3-pointer at 7:05, and then Josie Kattenbraker knocked down a three at 5:38. Destiny Williams came back with her third three-pointer of the early evening. Then, on a Panther missed shot, Destiny Williams grabbed the rebound and passed to Reese Chandler, who ran the length of the court and put the ball in.
For the next 60 seconds neither team could score, but Pinckneyville's Payton Morgan broke the drought with back-to-back two-pointers. Destiny Williams got a basket to keep the Chester lead at 18-14. PHS junior Aubrey Burns drained a trey and the half closed with Chester up by a point, 18-17.
A tale of two runs
The third quarter featured two runs. The first one was Pinckneyville's, and gave the Lady Panthers a 24-18 lead at the 4:55 mark. Panther Lily Tanner scored back-to-back baskets and Megan Breslin knocked down a 3-pointer.
Chester's Josie Kattenbraker made a two-pointer at the 4:26 mark and CHS pulled back within four points, 24-20. Lily Tanner followed with another field goal for Pinckneyville at 2:50 and extended the Panther lead back to 6.
But the Lady Jackets closed out the third quarter with a key 8-0 run by Destiny Williams -- a field goal followed by back-to-back 3-pointers -- that gave Chester a 28-26 lead.
To open the fourth, Chester went a quick 6-0 on two field goals by Kendall Williams and another by Josie Kattenbraker. At 6:50 to play, things were looking good with an 8-point Jacket lead.
Pinckneyville broke a nine-minute scoring drought at the 6:25 mark, when Megan Breslin, a 5-11 senior, hit a two-pointer. Until then, the Panthers had not scored since the 2:50 mark in the third quarter.
Chester's Destiny Williams connected for two points at 6:10 which created another 8-point CHS lead, 36-28.
PHS sophomore Payton Morgan then came alive and knocked down a 2-pointer. At 4:37, Megan Breslin drained a 3. With their deficit now only three points, Pinckneyville Coach Alan Engelhardt called a time out to put together his closing game plan.
But right out of the time out Destiny Williams drained a three-pointer to answer Pinckneyville's last three. The Jackets led by six points, 39-33, at the 4:13 mark.
Megan Breslin hit yet another 3-pointer at 3:48, to close the gap to three points of Chester, 39-36. Chester coach Pat Knowles called a time out.
Out of the time out, the Jackets threw the ball away -- a costly turnover. Knowles called another time out at 2:48. With just 1:12 to play the Panther's Breslin hit another deadly 3-pointer, her fourth of the second half, to tie the game, 39-39.
Chester led most of the game, by as many as eight points, but now fatigue was beginning to play a role. The starting five had played virtually the entire game without relief.
With just 60 seconds left, the Lady Jackets committed another costly turnover. Half a minute later, Lily Tanner hit a two-pointer to give Pinckneyville a 41-39 edge.
The Jackets had to begin fouling to stop the clock. At .27 Megan Breslin made a pair of free throws, making the lead 43-39.
On the next inbounds, Chester threw the ball away. With 12 seconds left, CHS fouled Pinckneyville's Breslin, who drained both free throws and the Panthers led by six points, 45-39.
As time ran out, Destiny Williams hit her fifth three-pointer of the game to make the final score 45-41.
Bring on next year!
In the loss, Destiny Williams led the Jackets with 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists, four steals, and two loose ball recoveries. Williams made 9-of-18 shots from the field for a 50 percent average.
"I am sad that the season had to end, but we ended with a fight," Williams said after the game. "No doubt the way we played shows that we are able to compete when we are locked in and focused."
Williams pointed out the Lady Jackets will be intact next year, because they won't lose any players to graduation.
"Tonight was an opportunity for us to showcase our hard work and determination," she added. "I am looking forward to next season already!"
Josie Kattenbraker had 11 points on 5 of 6 shooting, with one three-pointer and four field goals. She also grabbed four rebounds, had two assists, two steals, two deflections and two loose ball recoveries.
Other offensive contributors were Kendall Williams (4), Reese Chandler (2) and Alyssa Seymour (1). As a team the Jackets shot 39 percent (17-of-43) and from the line CHS made 1-of-3 free throws (33 percent).
In the battle the Lady Jackets grabbed 20 rebounds, had six assists, nine steals, eight deflections and recovered eight loose balls. CHS also committed 12 turnovers, many of which turned into Panther points.
Coach Engelhardt played a total of nine Panthers in the game. Pinckneyville was led by Megan Breslin with 18 points, followed by Lily Tanner (10), Payton Morgan (8), Haliegh Kling (6) and Aubrey Bruns (3). As a team the Panthers made 6 of 8 free throws.
Lady Jackets Coach Pat Knowles said his girls played their hearts out.
"The coaching staff is very proud of this team," he added. "Even though we lost tonight, this is not the last game ... it is just part of our journey!"
Knowles appreciated the big fan support his team had on Tuesday, and throughout the season.
"I also thought it was very classy for the Pinckneyville fans to give us a standing ovation as we left the court," he added.
The Lady Jackets finished the season with an overall record of 18-15 and 3-7 in the Black Diamond Conference.