LeROY — The final score wasn't what most irritated Danielle Cooley about Monday night's basketball game between state-ranked girls' teams.
LeRoy was beaten — for the second time in 10 days — by an El Paso/Gridley squad that has won all 25 of its games this season. Monday's outcome favored the Titans 58-38 in front of a near-capacity crowd of 700 at Dud Berry Gymnasium.
Worse than the loss was the manner in which it occurred.
"We got outhustled," said Cooley, whose 21-3 team is ranked second in Class 1A. El Paso/Gridley is ranked second in Class 2A.
When Cooley further dissected the game, other breakdowns were glaring.
"We run an offense where any of the five can score, but we got away from that and started forcing things," she said.
The Panthers, who start four seniors, have one week to make corrections before entering the postseason. El Paso/Gridley clinched no worse than a tie for the Heart of Illinois Conference crown, but LeRoy's ultimate goals remain intact.
"Tonight doesn't change a thing," said senior Molly Marcum, who led LeRoy with 12 points and six rebounds. "We expect nothing less than to make it to state. The way they beat us has nothing to do with our passion.
"We'll come out in our next game and play basketball the way we can."
The Panthers led just once (7-6) on a breakaway by Ashley Walker with 3:43 left in the opening quarter. The Titans took the lead for good 39 seconds later and built their lead to 22 points late in the third quarter.
"We will learn from our mistakes," said Walker, a senior who has committed to Central Methodist University in Missouri.
El Paso/Gridley had four starters score in double figures and owned a 37-24 rebounding cushion.
"They slowed us down, and we never quite took perfect shots," Marcum said. "I got caught forcing things. It's very frustrating."
Cooley is looking for the silver lining.
"I hope it focuses our attention," she said. "We'll go back to the basics."
The Panthers are the top-seeded entry in next week's Fisher Regional. It's not an unexpected position.
"We definitely had high expectations this year," Cooley said. "One of our biggest assets is that we have three or four girls who can step up and put in points. We're not a duo."
Against the Titans, Shannon Steffen scored seven points and Walker added five. Marcum hit both of her team's three-pointers.
LeRoy's third loss this season was to Rock Island Alleman, which was ranked eighth in last week's Class 2A state poll. The record is another reason for optimism when regional play starts.
The Panthers have not been beaten by a Class 1A school this season. That will not be a point of emphasis, however, for Cooley. She prefers another approach as she regroups her squad for the stretch drive.
"On any given night," she said, "we could be beat."