BY TRAVIS DAVID
ELSBERRY — Sound defense and timely scoring will usually take a team far in the postseason.
Thursday night it took the Palmyra girl’s basketball team into the championship game of the Class 3 District 6 Tournament.
The Lady Panthers held No. 2 seed Elsberry to just 19 points in the second half en route to a 47-35 semifinal win.
Palmyra erased a 16-13 halftime deficit by outscoring the host Lady Indians 12-7 in the third frame before erupting for 22 points in the fourth quarter.
“We were able to get better ball movement in the second half which really opened up more things offensively for us,” Palmyra coach Alex Brandenburg said of the second-half surge. “We were also able to turn our defense into offense to get a couple of easy buckets which took a little of the pressure off our girls.”
Palmyra limped into the postseason with a 6-13 record and had lost seven of its final eight regular-season games.
After displaying a stingy defense throughout most of the season, the Panthers surrendered nearly 67 points per game in the final three games of the regular season.
It appears they have righted the ship here in the postseason, led by Abbey Redd and Mallory Sublette.
The two scored just one point between them, but more than made their presence known on the defensive side of the ball.
“It’s good to be back to our old selves (defensively),” Brandenburg said. “I thought Abbey and Mallory did an awesome job defensively for us tonight. They held their best player to just five points and they really made her do a lot of things she is not used to doing or they simply kept the ball out of her hands.
“Those two take great pride in their ability to defend and make opposing offensive players uncomfortable.”
The fourth-quarter outburst — which helped turn a close 2-point lead into the double-digit win — was sparked by a pair of freshmen.
Candra King and Taytum White accounted for 15 of the Panthers’ 22 points in the final frame. King scored 10 of her game-high 18 points in the fourth while White added five of her 12 points.
“Communication was the big key,” King said of the scoring. “I feel like the fourth quarter was the best quarter for me in terms of communicating with my team and encouraging them when it was needed.”
Brandenburg added, “those two do a great job of finding one another, especially in transition. They just seem to always know where the other one will be. It’s great to see them playing this well on this stage.”
King also gave credit to senior Rylie McKinney. The only returning starter from last season’s 22-win squad, McKinney added 10 points Thursday night. Like the two freshmen, McKinney came up big in the fourth with six points.
“Rylie does a great job of keeping us up the whole game, even when we are down,” King said of her senior mentor.
Grace Krigbaum also played a big role in the Panthers’ win. The senior scored just six points but did a little bit of everything throughout the game, according to Brandenburg.
“She does not get near enough credit, but Grace was really the glue for us tonight,” the Panthers’ coach stated. “She did all the little things for us. She forced extra passes on defense which often led to turnovers and on the offense she did a great job of making the extra pass to free up her teammates.
“I really appreciate what all those girls were able to do tonight. They all have been through a lot of ups and downs this season but they have put in some crazy amount of hours…I am happy to see the hard work pay off and tonight was really exciting.”
King echoed the same sentiments.
“Tonight was a great TEAM win,” the freshman said. “We really came to play as a team tonight and brought a lot of intensity and energy.”
Palmyra travels to Clark County for the district championship on Saturday.
The top-seeded Lady Indians defeated Highland in Thursday’s other semifinal game, 59-31.