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Girls' basketball: Panther girls fall to Owls

A season that started with expectations of another state tournament trip ended in heartbreak last Tuesday night for the Parkers Prairie girls' basketball team.

Noga
Lori Mork, Echo Press Parkers Prairie's Micaela Noga (left) fired up a shot over the outstretched hands of a Hancock player during the Section 6A-South girls' basketball championship last week. The Panthers fell to the Owls, extinguishing Parkers Prairie's hopes for a repeat trip to the state tournament.

A season that started with expectations of another state tournament trip ended in heartbreak last Tuesday night for the Parkers Prairie girls' basketball team.

Down by three with 27.4 seconds left, the Panthers caused a turnover that led to three good looks that came up short in the closing seconds.

Madison Dorn cut her team's deficit to three by making a bucket and a free throw after the Panthers had just fallen behind by six. The Panthers' pressure then forced the Owls to deflect the following inbounds pass out of bounds to give the ball back to Parkers Prairie.

Micaela Noga got the first look at a three to tie the game. Her shot from the right wing came off short before an offensive rebound gave the Panthers another shot. This time it was Dorn who took the shot from the other wing. A scramble for the rebound led to a jump ball that gave Parkers one more opportunity with six seconds left.

Head coach John Noga drew up a play that his team had run many times that night but had yet to connect on. It worked to perfection as Micaela Noga came off a screen along the baseline and found herself wide open in the left corner. She let the ball go and watched as the ball came up short in the Panthers' final bid to tie the game.

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"I think she had a bad angle," her father and head coach said. "She got almost too much into that corner. That's why it hit the side. She should have been out another step. Another option was [Madison]. She usually comes off the screen in the middle, but she was going to come to the top. We were going to set a screen for her, but I mean, you couldn't ask for a better shot."

The Panthers thought they deserved another shot after that. The rebound came off to the Owls and a travel was called. The whistle blew on the call right before the buzzer sounded. The referee who made the call waved off the travel to signal that the game was over. John Noga tried to get an explanation but his pleas were ignored as the officials ran off the court. It was not the way the Panthers wanted to see their season end.

A couple turnovers late in the final minutes hurt Parkers Prairie's chances before that. Hancock's Aria Walstad stepped in front of a pass near midcourt with her team down by one with 2:41 left in the game. She was fouled on her way to the basket and stepped to the line and hit both free throws to give her team the 33-32 lead.

The Owls never trailed after that. Tamara Schmidt hit a jumper from the left elbow to cut the Panthers' deficit to one with 1:15 left. Hancock responded with a 5-0 run over the next 48 seconds to take a six-point lead before holding on down the stretch.

"We got a little bit too tentative," Noga said. "We stopped moving. We were kind of just hoping for someone to do something. I don't know. In a game like this, they have a little bit more experience with a few of their girls, and maybe that showed."

The Panthers left everything they had out on the court. Parkers Prairie was determined to show what it could do against Hancock with its full roster after a 22-point loss to Hancock during the regular season.

The Panthers were without Micaela Noga during a 62-40 loss to the Owls on February 24. They still were not completely healthy after junior center Amber Guenther was lost for the season with a knee injury she suffered in practice early in the playoffs.

Parkers Prairie was still able to make it a much different game this time around. The fact that the Owls had beaten them handily in Parkers Prairie had no bearing on their confidence heading into the subsection finals.

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"We were confident," Noga said. "I'll be honest. We knew with Micaela back it was going to be a great game. We might win or we might lose, but we were very, very confident that we could beat these guys."

The Panthers played with that confidence for much of the night. They came back to take a 17-16 lead at the break after falling behind early. Neither team had more than a four-point lead through the first 17 minutes of the second half. Hancock had just a little more down the stretch to punch its ticket to the section finals against Ada-Borup.

The Panthers were forced to look forward to next season after a disappointing end to the year. Noga told his girls to use the pain they felt as motivation in the off-season.

It is a team that will once again be one of the favorites in the Little Eight Conference and the section. Janessa Sjobeck is the lone graduating senior for Parkers Prairie. The promise of next year was not enough to ease the pain they felt on Tuesday night after coming up just short of their ultimate goals.

"It hurts," Noga said. "I told them that in the huddle after the game. Hopefully this will get them to just do a little bit extra. These girls work their butts off pretty much all year around to be good basketball players, but this hurts. For as well as we played, and [Hancock] is a very good team. It came right down to the wire. It just didn't go our way."

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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