CHAMPAIGN — Centennial discovered how hard it is to beat a team three times in a season.
Six days after the Chargers defeated Decatur Eisenhower in its gym, the Panthers paid a return visit Wednesday and ended the season for the state’s 12th-ranked girls’ basketball team.
Centennial (20-7) led for less than 90 seconds — and not at all during the final 25:51 — as it was ousted from the Class 3A regional in the semifinals, 70-54.
“I’m not a fan of playing someone over and over, and especially back-to-back,” Chargers coach Jessi Beachey said.
Centennial suffered through a tough first-half shooting performance, missing 19 of its first 24 shots.
“When your shooting is not on, catching up is hard to do,” Beachey said.
The Panthers, who started postseason play Monday with a 9-17 record, turned a 9-6 deficit into a 29-11 lead with 2:37 left in the first half.
“I’ve been at Eisenhower four years, and Centennial is the only team we haven’t beaten,” said Panthers coach Sean Flaherty, who formerly coached at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and LeRoy. “They were more fundamental, but we used our athleticism. I’ve won a lot of games, but this has to be in my top five.”
Zsayla Brummett scored a team-high 20 points for Centennial, hitting 10 in the final 71/2 minutes.
The Big 12 champion Chargers trailed by 19 points early in the fourth period but pulled within nine points (63-54) before Eisenhower hit 7 of 10 free throws in the last minute to secure its second win in two nights.
“We lost a lot of games this year where we blew double-digit leads,” Flaherty said. “I could see in my players’ eyes they wouldn’t let this one slip away.”
Eisenhower’s Tiana Cook scored a game-high 21 points.
“Their shots were dead on,” Beachey said. “We had times we worked hard but weren’t always rewarded. We’d get three (offensive) rebounds but couldn’t finish.”
Jada Caston led the Chargers with nine rebounds. She scored 11 points. Teammate Jaki Vipond added 10 points. Jasmine Kyler, the team’s top scorer this season, had six points, but she attempted one shot and had no rebounds during the last 26:41.
Mount Zion 68, Central 49. The third-seeded Braves (20-9) scored the first five points and never trailed against a Central team that committed five turnovers in the opening 31/2 minutes.
“We knew from film they were not a No. 3 seed,” Central coach Martin Pazanin said. “They played more like a No. 1 seed.
“They played their roles nicely and played like a team, but it doesn’t put a damper on what we did. We opened a lot of people’s eyes. They were not expecting what we did.”
Junior Scoyoniah Bowdry had the game’s only double-double. She led the Maroons with 16 points and 13 rebounds. No other player reached double figures for Central (15-13).
“She has only been playing basketball since eighth grade and has come a long ways,” Pazanin said. “She loves the game of basketball and loves to be in the gym. Nobody knew about her coming into the season.
“I’ve told her I expect her to average a double-double next season.”
Mount Zion hit 8 of 16 three-point shots — three coming in the first quarter — and built its lead to 26-10 midway through the second quarter. Central was unable to draw closer than 11 points thereafter.
Airiana Smith and Justice Winfield each scored eight points for the Maroons. Teammates Cidnee Sheehan and Payton Stillman each grabbed six rebounds, helping Central to a 38-32 edge on the boards.