HENRY — The Putnam County Panthers will host the area sectional with trophy in hand after defeating the Marquette Academy Crusaders 50-39 Friday to win the Henry 1A Regional. The win was the 14th straight victory for the Panthers, and emotions were riding high.
The final regional final was everything a title game should be, with neither team getting more than a three-point advantage until the last minute and one-half of game time. With just two minutes of play left, the Crusaders gathered their last points with a two-pointer from Curtiss Johnson, but that would be all she wrote for Marquette’s scoring, as a late scoring drive by senior guard Xavier Warren and junior guard Harold Fay put the game away for the Panthers.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world, honestly,” Warren said. “But there’s more to come.”
“It feels great! I can’t put it into words,” said Fay. “I just kinda made free throws at the end.”
In addition to dropping the final basket for the Panthers, Fay shot six free throws during the closing minutes of the game. While several players from both teams approached the line, Fay’s six were the only successful free throws of the night. As was often the case this year, coach Josh Naumann gave credit to his players’ defensive game.
“We just played some great defense tonight; we just had trouble scoring,” Naumann said. “We picked it up at the end; we kept it close the whole way. We were never able to get any separation, but we made plays at the end of the game. A lot of our games have been close, and tonight we got some steals when they were moving to the basket, and that was it.”
Fay was the leading scorer for the evening, tallying 22 points, 12 in the final quarter. Warren added 10, with junior forward Evan Kreiser pumping in an additional eight points off the bench. The Panthers also forced 26 turnovers throughout the contest. Michael Sypnieski and Curtiss Johnson led the Crusaders with 11 points for the evening.
PC will host the 1A sectional beginning Tuesday at R.M. Germano Gymnasium, a locale where the Panthers are undefeated this year. Putnam County will start the run for the sectional championship at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against Colfax Ridgeview (23-7, who topped Lexington 53-42 to win its own regional.
Tuesdays semifinal matches No. 1 ranked Mason City Illini Central (23-5) and Forysth Decatur Christian (21-6).
Notes: PC’s Cody Veronda also had a great night, long-balling 11 out of 15 baskets to lead the Three-Point Showdwn to advance. He will be joined by fellow Panther Fay who shot eight, as well as Henry-Senachwine’s Josh McCall and Nathan Helle who scored nine and eight, respectively.