BEECHER — Just two short seasons ago, Gardner-South Wilmington ended Beecher’s girls basketball 53-game River Valley Conference winning streak, a feat that spanned about 10 years.
The two RVC rivals have traded victories in matchups since then, but the Bobcats finally got the opportunity to get revenge and end an impressive streak the Panthers had when they took their unblemished 17-0 record and seventh spot in the IHSA Class 1A AP poll to Beecher on Thursday.
The Bobcats did just that, taking a few brief double-digit leads and holding off a late Panthers rally for a 43-37 win to hand G-SW its first loss of the season. The win improved the ‘Cats to 14-5 on the year and 5-0 in the RVC, and the Panthers fell to 17-1 (5-1).
“It’s amazing, obviously,” Bobcats senior Kaylie Sippel said. “Not only handing them their first loss, but as far as conference, to be in the driver’s seat this time is pretty cool.”
Both teams displayed their stellar defenses — Beecher’s full-court press and G-SW’s 2-3 zone — especially in the early going. Each team had just six points and five turnovers after the first quarter.
The Bobcats were the first team to find substantial offense, ironically coming after one of their top scorers, Abby Shepard, hit the bench with early foul trouble.
With senior point guard Margaret Landis out with an ankle injury and Shepard’s foul trouble, a pair of experienced seniors in Sippel and Yadi Barraza, saw their already busy workloads grow more.
The seniors answered the toll. Sippel got a few assists from the high and low posts and Barraza moved from off the ball to on it as the Bobcats ended the second quarter and began the third on a 10-0 run to take a 24-14 lead early in the second half.
“I knew that losing Margaret and having Abby in foul trouble were big losses for us,” Barraza said. “But knowing it’s my senior year and how this rivalry has gone so far, I wanted that good win.”
The Panthers quickly got right back in the thick of things, however, as they rattled off six points in a row to get back within two possessions about midway through the third, a margin the Bobcats took to the fourth with a 30-25 lead after three quarters, one that could have been much wider had Panthers’ coach Adam Leigh not seen his team respond to a double-digit deficit.
“There’s a reason we were 17-0 coming into this game,” Leigh said. “These girls don’t know how to quit, and I told them after the game I was proud of the way they fought back and turned it around there at the end.
“That’s what’s special about this team; they won’t give up.”
Try as they might, the resilient Panthers never could erase their deficit, never cutting it closer than three points down the stretch. Sippel, who scored 11 of her game-high 15 points in the second half, was the primary reason the Panthers never were able to string together enough of a run to come back.
Bobcats coach Adam Keen said his senior admitted to having a sluggish start with a 1-for-4 effort from the field in the first half but wasn’t surprised to see her step up when her team needed her most.
“There was a point early in the game where she was talking about not being able to shoot the ball well, and then in the end, she’s stepping up,” Keen said. “Every year I’ve [coached] her, she’s improved, and she’s really hit a huge stride in being one of the better players in the area.”
The Panthers had their lowest scoring output since November and struggled from the field, shooting just 20 percent (10 for 50). Leigh said the team traditionally struggles to find their shot when playing at Beecher and hopes to be able to hop right back on the saddle and quickly get back to the winning column.
“Overall, knowing how we play here and shooting-wise, they felt pretty good,” Leigh said of his team. “It was a close game except those quick 10-point gaps, so I think they’re still in a good mindset.
“We’re gonna go back to practice tomorrow and make sure we get lots of shooting in and just go back to our game.”
And for Keen, although she spent the game on the sidelines and out of uniform, the Bobcats still owed Landis credit for the way they held off the Panthers.
“We had to have that intensity and emotion that Margaret has,” Keen said. “Even when she’s out, she sets the tone for us.”
Sippel notched a double-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals. McDermott had eight points, six boards and a steal. Barraza, Shepard and Rhiannon Saller each had six points. Saller added nine boards and three assists, and Barraza had two boards, three assists and a steal.
Madelyn Storm led the Panthers with 11 points, five rebounds and two steals. Kaitlynn Kavanaugh and Kylie Hawks had six points apiece. Kavanaugh added eight boards and two steals and Hawks had two boards and two steals. Abby Beck had five points and nine rebounds.
Both teams are back in action Monday. The Bobcats host St. Anne, and the Panthers travel to Dwight, both at 7 p.m.