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Lady Panthers pounce on 1st place
A confidence building win put the Maxwell High girls basketball team back into sole possession of first place and avenged their only Mid-Valley League loss with a 44-43 victory Friday against Portola.
The Panthers (13-5, 7-1) watched a big lead slip away on their home court in the final quarter, but showed resilience by halting Portola's momentum, and regained the lead in the final minute of the game.
Portola (15-7, 6-2) dropped into second place with two regular season games remaining.
The Tigers found a hole in the Maxwell defense and roared back from a 12-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter. Hot-shooting Joannie Roach put Portola in position to take a 41-40 lead on a bucket by Sam Britt with 1:03 left in the game.
The lead changed hands twice in the next 13 seconds on baskets by Kaily McKinley, who scored a game-high 18 points for Maxwell, and Kaitlin Boyd, who led Portola with 13 points, before Brittney Haywood scored her first points of the game with 25 seconds left and put the Panthers up 44-43.
Needing a defensive stop, Maxwell's Jessie Otterson forced a jump ball, but the possession arrow gave the ball back to the Tigers. On the Tigers' inbound pass, Ashley Azevedo stole the ball and Portola made three quick fouls before reaching the bonus, sending McKinley to the line for a one-and-one with 1.4 seconds left on the clock. McKinley's shot missed, but Jenna Powell grabbed her 12th rebound of the game and held on as time ran out.
"I just knew we had to win it, our hearts were so into it. We just knew that we had to steal it, hold onto the ball, do whatever we could to make this one a win," McKinley said.
McKinley, who finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds, scored 10 points in the first quarter as the Panthers took a 12-7 lead. The Tigers attention shifted to McKinley in the second quarter, which freed up Azevedo and Shelen Boyes for wide-open 3-pointers.
Boyes, Azevedo and Powell out-hustled the Tigers repeatedly as Maxwell scored six unanswered points in the final minute of the first half.
Powell scored eight points and had 12 rebounds, Azevedo had eight points, and Boyes scored three points, made four assists and had four steals.
"They were just overplaying us on defense, so we just fed it to the post and we burned our person. Towards the end we started making more outside shots and we just rolled, everything was working for us," McKinley said.
Defense ruled the third quarter but Otterson scored the final five points of the period, hitting a 2-pointer with her foot on the 3-point line, and made sure her feet were behind the line on her next shot.
After being held to just two points through the first three quarters, Roach scored eight points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter as the Tigers pulled within striking distance.
McKinley picked up her fourth foul in the fourth quarter, which gave Roach a little extra space to shoot as McKinley played less aggressively on defense, Maxwell coach Leo LaGrande said.
"I've watched (Roach) play a lot, and once she starts finding her shot she gets deadly, and that's what happened in the second half, she started finding it."
Prior to Friday, Maxwell was 0-3 in games decided by five points or less. Holding on to win against a good team and having to come back from a deficit in the final minute showed how far the Panthers have come this season, LaGrande said.
"At the start of the season we couldn't do that… We didn't have that in our character and now they've built that into their character. We're peaking at the right time."
Entering the final week of the season, Maxwell is tied with Redding Christian and Westwood atop the Northern Section Division VI playoff points ranking. The Panthers played Colusa on Tuesday and finish the regular season with a home game against Biggs on Thursday.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or email@example.com.