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Solon falls prey to Panthers, 73-46

Solon senior Brianna Smith is comforted by teammates as she is overcome by the levity of the fact her high school basketball career ended. The Lady Spartans fell, 73-46, in Class 3A Region 3 first round pairings to the Monticello Panthers, in Monticello, on Saturday, Feb. 10. (photo by Jeff Hess)

MONTICELLO– The Solon Lady Spartans bid adieu to the 2017-18 Basketball season on Saturday, Feb. 10, following a first-round loss to the Monticello Panthers, 73-46, after ending their regular season on the road Tuesday, Feb. 6, in Mount Vernon, with a loss to the Mustangs, 44-19.
In Mount Vernon, the Lady Spartans got out to a slow start against the Mustangs, finally getting on the board with two points just at the close of the first quarter overshadowed by the home team’s 13 points. The second quarter, Solon pried the lid off the basket, with their best quarter of play in the game, and almost kept pace with the Mustangs, only outscored by one, 11-10, to end the half with Mount Vernon leading, 24-12.
The second half got scrappy for both teams, the Mustangs accruing nine fouls to Solon’s eight. In the third quarter, the Lady Spartans only added four points to their score, giving up 12 points in the process, to enter the final quarter trailing, 36-16. Mount Vernon substituted regularly in the fourth, only adding an additional eight points, while the Spartans scored three more points to end the evening as Coach Lisa Bishop substituted from the bench in the final minutes. The horn sounded, ending the regular season for the Lady Spartans with a road loss to Mount Vernon, 44-19.
Coach Lisa Bishop credited Mount Vernon’s defense for controlling the Spartans’ offensive tempo “Credit to Mount Vernon’s defense. They really do a great job defensively playing lock-down D on teams to get them out of rhythm.”
Brianna Smith racked up 12 points to lead Solon’s scoring efforts. She also had an assist and a rebound. Erin Kerkhoff scored four points while pulling down a rebound and stealing the ball twice, Saige Hauer added two points and three rebounds, and Gabby Marty dropped in one free throw, added an assist and pulled down five rebounds. Jenna LaDage was held scoreless but pulled down a rebound and stole the ball twice, Abby Smith stole the ball once, and Sarah Ruzicka and Sam Miller each pulled down a rebound.
The Lady Spartans limited themselves to just 12 turnovers.
Coach Bishop felt the team approach to Mount Vernon was more determined due to the two teams’ history.
“I approach (the Mount Vernon game) as any other game, but the girls definitely have a determination to that game every time. I think because they have played with many of them throughout the years and they have told me that they have never beat them, even in all their youth/junior high seasons,” explained Coach Bishop.
Coach Bishop felt fortunate to face Monticello in the postseason on Saturday.
“I was thankful it was a fresh team that we hadn’t played yet this season. I felt like the girls did a good job of buying into our game plan, and preparing for Monticello on Saturday during the week’s practices,” she commented.
The Class 3A Region 3 match up between the Solon Lady Spartans (6-15, prior to the game) and the Monicello Panthers (16-5), in Monticello, held a lot of promise.
Asked if they felt any added pressure going into the game with the Panthers, LaDage and Marty both eagerly offered comment.
“Being a post player is definitely one of the hardest positions on the floor,” Marty said. “You have to be able to show up and play unselfish every game, you also have to be willing to do the dirty work like screening, rebounding, protecting the basket, and being physical. I learned to always continue fighting no matter what the situation and to trust my basketball instincts while on the floor and just play.”
LaDage shared the same focus. “It intensifies obviously, I mean every team wants to advance and you know every team is going into their game willing to do whatever it takes to win,” she said. “Which is what makes it so much tougher, which I love… I don’t feel a whole lot of additional pressure, because of our preparedness and the work we’ve put in specifically for that game, but some, just to succeed and win because my team deserves it.”
The Panthers drew first blood a little over 30 seconds into the game for a 2-0 lead. A little over 20 seconds later the Lady Spartans answered and took a 4-2 lead just before the 6:30 mark. A free throw allowed Monticello to close, 4-3, roughly 10 seconds later, and the Panthers took the lead on a layup at the 5:50 mark, 5-4. A LaDage 3-pointer allowed Solon to reclaim the lead at the 5:24 mark. Monticello answered with their own 3-pointer, and a little more than 30 seconds later made it 10-7. Two from Brianna Smith, with 3:28 glowing on the clock, brought Solon back to within one, 10-9. But Monticello’s Jordan Kuper pushed back with a two to put the Panthers back out front, 12-9. Solon’s Abby Smith matched Kuper’s two and Solon moved within one again, 12-11. The Panthers’ Lauren Ries put back a shot under the basket pushing them back in front, 14-11, at the 2:42 mark. Monticello’s Ries was at the foul line to sink two to put the Panthers up 16-13 as the pace quickened toward the end of the quarter. A minute before the half, Monticello was up 18-13. Brianna Smith was sent to the line, fouled on a layup, to shoot two with 52 seconds glowing, she dropped both the front and back end to close, 18-15. With 20 seconds showing in the first quarter, following several trips back and forth, the Lady Spartans had Kerkhoff bring the ball calmly up the court and began working the ball around the perimeter and LaDage dropped a 3-pointer, at the buzzer for an 18-18 tie.
A minute into the second, both teams had scored but remained tied, 20-20, as Monticello’s Taylor McDonald was sent to the foul line and sank two. Marty tied things up, 22-22. Neither team was able to score until the 4:35 mark, when Solon’s Abby Smith dropped a jump shot from the paint in for two, Solon reclaimed the lead, 24-22. A 3-pointer by the Panthers with 3:39 on the clock placed them ahead of Solon, 25-24. Hauer reclaimed Solon’s lead, 26-25, with a jump shot just inside the arc at 3:11 before the half. Free throws by the Panthers with 1:32 left in the half put them ahead by one, 27-26. Monticello’s McDonald dropped a 3-pointer with 1:07, putting some breathing space between them and the Lady Spartans, 30-26. Free throws by Ries and a basket by Monticello’s Maddie Fellinger made it 34-26, with 13.8 remaining in the half. A last-second three by Solon’s Brianna Smith made it 34-29 at the half.
Abby Smith brought Solon within three, 34-31, with a layup, but the Panthers rattled off 10 straight points for a 44-31 margin. Solon’s Abby Smith added two, working inside, to make it 47-33 with 2:08 left in the third. With a little less than a minute remaining in the quarter, Monticello’s McDonald made the Panthers’ lead 20 points, 53-33, with a jump shot. Solon’s Sam Miller made her way to the free throw line with 27.9 seconds remaining in the half, sinking one to trail, 53-34. A 3-pointer by Monticello’s Ries made the Panther lead 56-34 to end the third.
Starting the final quarter, the Panthers rolled the tempo back and moved the ball, looking for clear shots only, forcing the Lady Spartans to play from behind. Two buckets by Brianna Smith and one by Marty in the paint made it 63-40.
Coach Lisa Bishop called a time-out with 2:18 remaining in the game as the Lady Spartans had been held silent scoring while the Panthers built to a 72-40 lead. Brianna Smith dropped a jump shot from the free-throw-line with two minutes remaining in her senior year to make the score 72-42. Kerkhoff drove inside and laid the ball in for two, 73-44, with 1:23 left in the season. Brianna Smith dropped in a final shot before the buzzer to end her high school basketball career and make the final score 73-46. The varsity players gathered around senior Brianna Smith and embraced her as she wept.
“It was really tough last night, to walk off that court,” Brianna Smith said the next day. “Somehow the closer it got to my last game, the farther away it seemed. I swear, just a few weeks ago, I was that typical little freshman walking into her first high school practice and then I blinked and suddenly I was lacing up my shoes for my final game as a Lady Spartan. I’m not sure how, but last night’s game seems so blurry, but at the same time I can remember just about every detail. That first half was an amazing half of basketball from us and, walking out onto that court after half time, I thought that game was ours for the taking. We just let that third quarter slip away from us.
“With like four minutes left in the fourth quarter, their student section had started chanting their victory cheer since they were up, by like 20 or so… So I brought everybody in and asked that if we were going to go down tonight, we’d go down with one heck of a fight- and they came through. That’s what was so special about this year’s team. They always would fight until the very end. I remember hearing the buzzer go off and, honestly I wanted to shrink away and hide but instead I was welcomed with open arms by several of my teammates offering their support because they knew how upset I was that this was over. It’s pretty hard to think about the fact that I’ll never wear my Solon basketball jersey again, but man, did I have some fun times in that jersey.” 
Coach Bishop said there were a lot of emotions surrounding the game in Monticello.
“Going into the game I felt like the girls were very focused and prepared. At the half they were confident and ready to give everything they had for two more quarters. Following the game, it always has a different tone when it’s the last game of the season. Many girls were sad but thankful for the team and everyone involved. I was proud of them for the fight every night out that they gave other teams,” she said.
Brianna Smith led the Lady Spartans’ offensive charge against Monticello scoring 13 points with two assists, five rebounds and three steals. LaDage, Marty and Abby Smith each had eight points; LaDage had six assists, a rebound and four steals, Marty pulled down six rebounds and had a steal, and Abby Smith had one assist, pulled down four rebounds and stole the ball once. Kerkhoff scored four points with two assists and a steal; Ruzicka and Hauer each scored two points with Hauer accumulating two assists and four rebounds and Ruzicka pulled down a rebound; and Sam Miller scored a point with an assist and a rebound. Haley Melchert recorded a rebound and Heather Vance had an assist. The Lady Spartans amassed 20 turnovers in the game.
Coach Bishop felt the Lady Spartans stepped up their performance from Tuesday to Saturday, but acknowledged Monticello was a great team.
“So many factors go into the game of basketball each and every night,” she said. “We talked after Mount Vernon that we (cannot) allow other teams to make us play in a hurry. We need to play quick but not in a hurry. Our shots were off-balanced and way off the mark versus Mount Vernon.”
Against the Panthers, she said, the shot selection was more balanced.
“Credit to Monticello, they have four girls that can score even with a hand in their face, or a 6-foot-2 post player that can shoot right over top of us. They are a great team,” she said.
The Lady Spartans closed the door on the 2017-18 basketball season, Coach Bishop’s third season at the helm, with a record of 6-16 for the year.
“As a coach, you are there for the kids,” said Bishop. “I would do anything for these girls and I am proud of them for continuing to fight the good fight every night. I felt like the girls were very selfless and didn’t care who was the star on a given night. I think we all saw the value of fundamentals which can be best developed in the off-season.”
Sophomore Jenna LaDage subscribes to Bishop’s off-season belief.
“I know this team has so much more potential than what we reached, and that it’s our job to start working towards that potential in the gym in the off season,” LaDage said in an email. “I know now what it feels like really to be a part of the core varsity and feel that loss, knowing we hadn’t peaked yet, and that there’s another level of our play. Now we control what we can control, and focus on the off-season. We have to get back to work soon and improve ourselves. Letting go is difficult, but we can’t move on until we wipe this game away. I think this team has a lot in store for next season, if we can get more off-season work. That will be key to our success.”
Junior Gabby Marty, playing varsity since her freshman season, didn’t care for the taste this season’s record left with her and remarked with competitive desire illustrating how she would get past it.
“We haven’t made it very far in post season play during these past three years. Like my teammates, I’d like to make it deeper into the postseason than just one game before I graduate,” she said. “I will move forward, concentrate on my next sport, which is horse showing for me, and put all of my time, energy, and heart into it, just like I did in basketball this past season.”  
Asked about her seniors this season, Bishop reflected, “This is a special group of seniors because of the diversity of roles on the team. They each showed their commitment to the team in their own unique way. Mady and Hailey each selflessly served the team every night by taking stats, recording game film, at practice or whatever was needed of them, since they weren’t allowed to play because of their individual injuries. Sam and Heather had both overcome a variety of different illnesses throughout the season, they both chose to persevere and still be an asset to the team. Brianna is the heart and soul to our team. She is passionate, always gives 100 percent and is our primary floor contributor. I love them regardless of their performance every night.”