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Putnam County senior Sam Garland (center) and his Panther teammates celebrate after they defeated Henry 54-40 in the Class 1A Marquette Regional championship Friday in Marseilles. It is Putnam County’s eighth regional title in the last 12 seasons. NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
MARSEILLES — The Putnam County boys basketball team did something it did last year with Friday’s 54-40 Class 1A Marquette Regional championship win over Henry.
This time around, the Panthers don’t want to stop with a regional plaque. They want the bigger and more esteemed hardware.
“Last year, this was our Super Bowl, but this year it isn’t our Super Bowl,” PC senior Evan Kreiser said. “We want more this year, so we’re going for it.”
PC’s victory is the eighth Panther regional title in the last 12 seasons and advances it to the Class 1A Ridgeview Sectional where PC will face Tri-County Conference foe Roanoke-Benson at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The Panthers (22-8) are looking to get their first win in a sectional game since 2008.
“That’s what we’re looking forward to,” PC coach Josh Nauman said. “Last year, they were disappointed that they didn’t win a game at sectional. I always let the team pick what the back of the practice gear has on it and this year they wanted ‘Unfinished business’ because their goal was to win a sectional game instead of just win a regional title.
“They’ve been pretty focused the last week and hopefully that keeps up.”
Friday’s title game began as a defensive battle as both teams harassed their opponent with intense pressure.
If an offense could get past the perimeter defense, it was stopped by the interior defenders.
Henry led the low-scoring first half 20-18 after the teams were locked 10-10 after the first quarter.
In the first 16 minutes, PC had nine steals to Henry’s seven steals, while there were 21 turnovers combined. Both teams ended the game with 21 turnovers and the Panthers’ won the steal battle 15-12.
The second half was a different story for the Panthers as they found a way to gel together by individually doing what they needed to do to get the victory.
Kreiser scored eight of his 12 points in the third quarter to help the Panthers outscore Henry 17-4 in the quarter.
“That is why I like this team. It’s not a one-man show like a lot of people think,” PC senior Harold Fay said. “We just play as a team and we play well together. It’s not always just me scoring, it’s everyone.
“In a regional championship, both teams came out firing on defense. They were up in our grill all game. We just started opening it up in the second half when we were down. It was a good win.”
Fay scored a game-high 21 points, but 12 came in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach and the Mallards continued to send him to the free throw line.
Each of the seven Panthers to enter the game before the last 1:20 scored at least three points.
“We just had trouble scoring a little bit in the first half,” said Nauman, who’s Panthers won the season series with Henry 2-1. “In the second half, we kind of calmed down, relaxed and were able to get the shots we wanted and they started falling. We just did a tremendous job defensively in the second half.
“I know up until the last minute there when the subs were in, we held them to 14 points in the half. All of our guys who were out there did an incredible job.”
Henry coach Steve Self said his team has no reason to hang its head because it played a good game, but simply couldn’t match the Panthers’ second-half run when PC’s offense began to hit shots it wasn’t hitting before.
Senior Ryan Condit led the Mallards with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore Deven Guelde and senior Jake Schlosser had seven points apiece.
Henry finishes the season 23-5.
“It’s been a fun year,” Self said. “It will take a couple weeks before it’s able to settle in with what we accomplished and the run we made. I’ve enjoyed the journey.
“Everybody says just enjoy the journey and I really have. It’s a tough way to end but nonetheless, it’s been a great year. It’s been great for our community and great for our school.”