Cape Central girls advance to face Poplar Bluff in district title game

Thursday, February 25, 2010
Central's Starr Harris shoots between Seckman's Marissa Lehnig, left, and Texas Crowe during their Class 5 District 1 semifinal Wednesday in Poplar Bluff, Mo. (BRIAN ROSENER ~ Daily American Republic)

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Central girls basketball coach Sherri Shirrell said her team has not made a habit of starting fast this season.

The Tigers reversed that trend Wednesday night and it helped send them into the Class 5 District 1 tournament championship game for the second straight year.

Top-seeded Central scored the game's first 12 points, led by 14 points after one quarter and held off a rally by fourth-seeded Seckman before posting a 53-41 semifinal win.

Central (17-7) will face second-seeded and host Poplar Bluff in Friday's 6 p.m. title contest. The Mules beat the Tigers 54-37 for last year's championship.

"We remember what it felt like last year, losing at the end," junior forward Chelsea Pannier said. "We're ready to take it this year."

Central's Sadie Pittman goes for a layup in front of Seckman's Marissa Lehnig during the first half of their Class 5 District 1 semifinal Wednesday in Poplar Bluff, Mo. (BRIAN ROSENER ~ Daily American Republic)

Shirrell was elated to see the Tigers jump out to a 12-0 lead against Seckman (13-14), which lost to Central by 13 points earlier this season.

"We got off to a fast start, which has not been our strong point," Shirrell said. "I was proud of the way we were ready to play."

Pannier hit a 3-pointer 28 seconds into the contest to give Central a lead it would not relinquish.

Freshman forward Chelsea Vinson scored on a conventional three-point play, then made two free throws for an 8-0 advantage.

Senior forward Paige Smith made two consecutive baskets from in close and it was 12-0.

"We had a great start. Excellent," senior point guard Sadie Pittman said.

The Tigers led 20-6 after one quarter. Pannier made 1 of 2 free throws at the start of the second period to give Central its biggest advantage, 21-6.

Seckman pulled to within 27-16 at halftime, then made a major move in the third quarter by outscoring Central 17-8 as senior Marissa Ann Lehnig poured in 13 points. So the Tigers' lead was down to 35-33.

"We knew they had a good team and she [Lehnig] is an excellent shooter," Shirrell said.

But the Tigers scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to regain control and wound up outscoring the Jaguars 18-8 in the period as Pittman had eight of her team-high 18 points.

"The second half they came out real hard," said Pittman, who had 12 second-half points.

Pannier added 13 points, five coming in the fourth quarter.

Smith had eight points and two blocks. Vinson and senior guard Farrah Malik rounded out Central's scorers with seven points apiece.

Lehnig hit four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 21 points.

"We let up a little bit and they came back, but we pulled it out at the end. That's all that matters," Pannier said.

Central was bolstered by its full-court pressure defense that forced 21 turnovers, 11 coming off steals. The Tigers also blocked seven shots.

Now the Tigers will turn their attention to Friday's final as they shoot for the program's first district championship in some time.

Although Central was routed by Poplar Bluff in last year's final, the Tigers beat the Mules 48-46 this season in Cape Girardeau.

"It feels good," Pittman said of making a repeat title game appearance. "I'm excited. I can't wait to play."

Seckman610178--41
Central207818--53

SECKMAN (41) -- Texas Crowe 2, Kori Farmer 2, Jessica Montgomery 6, Jamie Sheets 4, Marissa Ann Lehnig 21, Shelbey Stuckmeyer 6. FG 15, FT 7-11, F 17. (3-pointers: Lehnig 4. Fouled out: Lehnig)

CENTRAL (53) -- Sadie Pittman 18, Farrah Malik 7, Chelsea Pannier 13, Paige Smith 8, Chelsea Vinson 7. FG 21, FT 10-17, F 10. (3-pointers: Pannier 1. Fouled out: Smith)

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