PAXTON — One of Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s close losses this season was a 61-57 nail-biter in January to St. Thomas More, a game in which PBL led in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers did not let any lead slip away this time, and they defeated the Sabers 71-62 on Thursday night in the Sangamon Valley Conference quarterfinals.
“Early in the season and a couple of other times at the midpoint of the season, we were on the cusp, but we just didn’t make plays,” PBL coach Scot Vogel said. “We wanted somebody to step up and start making plays, and (Thursday night) we had that.
“Hopefully, it’s a sign of good things to come. I’m proud of them because they’ve been on the cusp so many times this season, and you want to see them get rewarded for all their hard work.”
Jay Eshleman hit two three-pointers in the first quarter to help PBL go ahead 12-10 before Drew Schrodt ended the quarter with another trey to put his team up 20-18.
Johnny Walder scored eight points in the second quarter — including two three-pointers — to help PBL lead 39-26 at halftime.
The Panthers made 10 shots from beyond the arc. Schrodt scored a game-high 25 points, including three treys.
“We’ve started shooting the ball a lot better the last four games,” Vogel said. “It puts a lot more pressure on defenses when you’ve got four guys who can hit from the outside and can also get to the rim.”
The Panthers also received an inside presence from Jeremy Walder, who scored seven of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“I think once he realizes his potential, he will be a force to be reckoned with,” Vogel said about the junior.
PBL will face St. Joseph-Ogden, the tournament’s top seed and fifth-ranked Class 2A team, in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday in Onarga.
“You want to have that type of test because when regionals come, you’ve got to be ready to play,” Vogel said. “We’re going to go in there, and we’re not going to lay down. We’re going to go in there and fight as hard as we can.”
St. Thomas More, which cut its deficit to 64-59 in the fourth quarter, was led by Mike Plecki and Doug Wallen, who scored 15 and 14 points, respectively.
The Sabers will face Watseka in the consolation semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday in Paxton.
“We just came out flat in the first half,” STM coach Matt Kelley said. “We didn’t come out with a lot of energy, and they took it to us in the first half, but give our kids credit. They battled back and kept playing hard. We just can’t keep digging ourselves in a hole like that.”
SJ-O 71, Watseka 37. A team typically does not earn the No. 5 ranking in Class 2A by relying on one scorer, and St. Joseph-Ogden is no exception.
Even with their standout player — Nate Michael — held scoreless in the first half, the Spartans still managed to start the game on a 10-2 run. They went on the run en route to 20-11 and 34-19 leads at the end of the first and second quarters, respectively.
Eleven Spartans finished with at least two points. Michael scored all eight of his points in the third quarter.
“The guys did a good job. We have multiple players who can score, and we proved that (Thursday night),” SJ-O coach Brian Brooks said.
Brent Schluter scored 12 first-quarter points to lead the Spartans’ splurge, while Dalton Parker provided six first-half points off the bench. Six different SJ-O players scored in the first half.
Schluter finished with a team-high 16 points, while Jake Pence and Dalton Walsh added nine and eight points, respectively.
“Brent really stepped up in the beginning,” Brooks said. “We did a good job of getting him the ball, and he was active on the boards and all over the place. He really did spark us to start the game.”
Will Lyznicki led Watseka in the first half with nine points — including seven in the first quarter — while Austin Hasselbring added six first-half points. “They’re both sophomores, and they played like seniors,” Watseka coach Anthony Videka said. “It’s tough to beat anybody when you dig a hole like we did (in the first half).”
Cissna Park 59, Iroquois West 29. Ben Jennings scored 14 points to lead an ultra-balanced attack that carried the Timberwolves to the win. Josh Marquez, Tyson Rogers and Tyler Schuldt each added 12 points for CP.
Austin Zirkle paced the Raiders with eight points.