GARDNER — The Panthers’ girls basketball team’s incredible start has carried over into 2020 following a breezy 46-26 win over Central at home on Friday that improves their season standing to 16-0.
G-SW maintained firm control from wire to wire of its one-sided win thanks to strong performances from Kaitlynn Kavanaugh and Mya Anderson — both of whom picked up the slack nicely following a first-quarter injury to the team’s usual top-scorer, Abby Beck.
“We’re down a few players with a few of us on vacation for winter break, so I only had seven to start tonight. Overall, with who we have here, we played pretty well, especially defensively,” Panthers coach Adam Leigh said. “Only allowing eight points in the first half, I thought we played pretty well out of our zone. We haven’t had many injuries so far this season, so we had to adjust on the fly, but luckily we were able to figure it out in the end.”
Despite a spirited effort from the Comets, Kavanaugh in particular was simply too much for the Comets to handle. The Panthers’ senior forward imposed her will on both ends of the floor in the second half, using her superior speed, strength and athleticism to cause problems for the Comets in every phase of the game.
“When you’re coaching a game and you’re looking for a player to go to, a player like (Kavanaugh) always makes life easier for you,” Leigh said. “Kaitlynn really recognized our need for her to step up tonight and I think she responded well. She rebounded well and knocked down quite a few free throws. We’ve been looking to get the ball to her more and I think today she did a pretty good job.”
Central played with admirable heart throughout the loss and did a nice job of limiting mental errors on offense while playing a spirited high-pressure defense. There was no shortage of hustle or intensity from the Comets and they did a nice job of creating opportunities for themselves, as well. Unfortunately, all the effort in the world couldn’t make up for the handful of areas where they lagged well behind the undefeated Panthers.
Though there were plenty of decent looks for Central’s shooters, for example, they lacked a consistent scorer to finish near the rim. They also rebounded well, particularly while Kavanaugh was off the floor due to some early foul trouble, but were unable to convert those rebounds into anything meaningful.
Their inability to match up skill-wise led to a perpetual state of foul trouble as they tried in vain to keep up with the more cohesive Panthers through sheer grit alone, which played right into G-SW’s hands down the stretch.
Led by Kavanaugh’s 7-for-10 stint from the free-throw line in the second half, the Panthers shot 14-for-17 from the stripe down the stretch as they steadily pulled further and further ahead of the scrappy Comets and preserved their impressive unblemished record.
“We have to stay healthy and I don’t know Abby’s status yet. She’s our main scorer and averages about 14 points a game for us,” Leigh said. “She rolled her ankle tonight and we’ll see what happens, but as long as we can stay healthy, I think we should be able to finish pretty close to undefeated.
“We have some good tests against Beecher, obviously, and against Peotone and Newark at the end of the season,” he added. “But I think we should continue the run, at least for a little bit, and I’m happy with the way we’ve been playing. I mean, how could I be upset with 16-0?”
Kavanaugh had a dozen points to lead all scorers. Anderson was also in double-figures for the Panthers with 10 points. Beck had six early points before her injury.
Kamryn Grice led the Comets with eight points. Jillian Baker added seven points.