Panthers stun top seed in Holiday Classic

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 ~ Updated 12:15 AM
Meadow Heights players are congratulated by coach Mitch Nanney as they head for the bench with seconds left in their semifinal game Tuesday against Farmington in the Show Me Center Holiday Classic.

Meadow Heights wasn't about to stop at knocking off just one much bigger school.

The giant-killer Panthers made it two straight during their initial appearance in the Show Me Center Holiday Classic.

And this one was especially impressive.

Meadow Heights, seeded fifth for the 15th annual eight-team girls basketball tournament, stunned top-seeded Farmington 64-50 in Tuesday night's semifinals.

The Panthers will take on third-seeded Notre Dame at 8:30 p.m. today for the title.

Meadow Heights senior Gina Cureton shoots during Tuesday's semifinal game against Farmington at the Show Me Center Holiday Classic. The Panthers won 64-50. (Laura Simon)

"It's really exciting," said senior guard Gina Cureton, who scored a game-high 17 points. "Words can't even explain it."

The Class 2 Panthers (7-1) rolled past Class 5 Central -- a rebuilding, inexperienced squad that was seeded fourth -- 56-28 on Monday.

But they knew beating Class 4 power Farmington (5-2) would take a much stronger performance.

"We played a lot better than last night," said junior forward Erin Bollmann, who added 14 points. "A lot of people were speculating we wouldn't beat Farmington. We wanted to show them up."

Meadow Heights coach Mitch Nanney showed his players an article about the Connecticut women's basketball team and its quest for perfection before Tuesday's contest.

Farmington defender Rachel Williams tries to block a shot by Meadow Heights junior Erin Bollmann during their semifinal game Tuesday in the Show Me Center Holiday Classic. (Laura Simon)

The Panthers said it made an impression on them.

"Coach said we should shoot for perfection and we'll get excellence," Cureton said. "It was from the UConn story."

Said Nanney: "One of the things the article talked about is taking one possession at a time. Every play matters."

That the Panthers -- who reached the Class 2 quarterfinals the past two seasons and returned every starter from a year ago -- beat Farmington might not have been all that shocking.

But the convincing nature of the victory was surprising.

Meadow Heights led virtually wire to wire, its only deficit being 10-9 late in the first quarter.

Cureton made two free throws to put the Panthers up 11-10 and they stayed ahead the rest of the way.

It was 18-12 after one quarter and 29-22 at halftime as senior guard Hattie Cook buried a 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining.

The Panthers took total control in the third quarter, outscoring the Knightettes 24-15. Sophomore reserve guard Taylor Cureton's 3-pointer at the buzzer sent Meadow Heights to the final period with a commanding 53-37 advantage.

"Taylor, a sophomore, comes off the bench and hits two big 3s," Nanney said.

Meadow Heights went up 54-37 at the outset of the fourth quarter for the night's biggest margin.

Farmington cut the deficit to 58-49 in the final minute, but Gina Cureton made 4 of 6 free throws. Nanney pulled his starters with 16 seconds left, much to the delight of the Meadow Heights fans at the Show Me Center.

"It feels good to beat a No. 1 seed because we came in as a No. 5," Cureton said. "We're a Class 2 school playing these Class 5 schools. ... it's nerve-wracking."

But the Panthers hardly seem fazed taking on the bigger programs.

"Farmington is an excellent team, but there was no doubt in our mind we could do it," Nanney said. "We played well and everybody contributed."

Meadow Heights18112411--64

MEADOW HEIGHTS (64) -- Mica Morse 2, Hattie Cook 8, Gina Cureton 17, Erin Bollmann 14, Heather Dietiker 9, Whitney Welker 6, Taylor Cureton 6, Jillian Mills 2. FG 22, FT 14-26, F 16. (3-pointers: Cook 2, Dietiker 2, T. Cureton 2. Fouled out: none)

FARMINGTON (50) -- Brittany Gladbach 13, Erin Littrell 4, Tayhlor Milfeld 9, Morgan Ankrom 12, Rachel Williams 12. FG 19, FT 8-13, F 19. (3-pointers: Gladbach 2, Milfeld 1, Williams 1. Fouled out: Littrell, Ankrom)

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