The Paradise Lady Panthers are in the process of turning their program around. Friday night they made a statement.
Paradise rallied and held on down the stretch to upset the No. 18 Alvord Lady Bulldogs, 63-50.
The Paradise win tied the two teams for second place in District 9-2A with one game remaining.
“It’s just not big for these kids; it’s big for the program,” Paradise coach Eddie Fortenberry said. “We are telling people we are back, and now we are starting to prove we are back.”
Trailing by as many as nine points early in the second quarter, Paradise kept chipping away. In the final six minutes of the second quarter, the Lady Panthers outscored Alvord 21-10.
That same span of time had each team combined for a total of 22 free throws.
“It was hard for both teams to get in any kind of rhythm on offense,” Alvord coach Rob Schmucker said about the first half. “We both put ourselves in that position from fouling. It is what it is.”
Kaylee McConnell capped off the second period with a jumper that gave the Lady Panthers a 32-30 lead. They would never trail again.
Giving up leads to good teams has been a problem for Paradise, but they put that behind them Friday.
“Early in the year we were giving up leads to good teams,” Fortenberry said. “To beat a good team and not give up a lead and actually build on it; it proves our kids are growing up.”
Paradise got their guards more involved in the second half, freeing things up for junior Makenna Burt in the paint. When the Lady Panthers weren’t hitting from the outside, she was cleaning things up on the boards.
Burt scored 15 of her 22 points in the second half, as their lead grew to 43-36 at the end of the third.
“You have to give them credit,” Schmucker said. “They played better than us tonight. We just have to go back to work.”
Paradise kept building their momentum in the final frame. Makayla Neighbors kept making things happen on the offensive end and then put things away from the free throw line.
Neighbors hit nine free-throws in the final six minutes to seal the win.
“It’s going to do a ton for their confidence and the confidence of every little girl sitting out there in the stands,” Fortenberry said about the victory. “It’s been a long journey to bring a program back. You can’t put into words how big it is. There is no way.”
Neighbors finished with 22 points, and Courtney Kerr added 13. McConnell finished with five.
Alvord was led by Marissa Schedcik with 18, and Ariel Rogers scored 10. Macy Pritchett tossed in eight. Sam Hahn, Katie Claborn and Lauren Hart all finished with four.