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Panthers stun Indians for tournament title

December 31, 2003|by BILL STERNER / Staff Correspondent

HANCOCK - When Hancock basketball coach Rocky Wills was hired, he quickly promised the community and his players that they would learn the basics of the game and see improvement.

Wills and the Panthers went a long way toward fullfilling that goal in Tuesday night's championship game of the Hancock Holiday Classic.

Dana Beaver and Aimee Barton combined for 27 points, including five 3s, while tournament MVP Jennifer Willison tossed in 10 points and pulled down 16 rebounds as the Panthers stunned Berkeley Springs, 56-49, to win their own tournament for the first time in seven years.

The packed house cheered as the Panthers first built a lead in the third quarter then played with focus and intensity down the stretch to hold off the determined Indians.

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Hancock (3-4) used a lethal combination of aggressive half-court man defenses mixed with balanced scoring as four starters finished in double figures. Wills assigned the muscle of Willison and Amber Moats to handle Berkeley Springs 5-foot-10 center Heather Shaw, while Barton, Beaver and freshman point guard Kris Creek were able to neutralize the Indians' Danielle Fox.

The Panthers continually cut off the passing lanes and disrupted an offense that cruised smoothly just the night before.

"How sweet this is!" Wills shouted over the celebration in the Hancock locker room. "These kids busted their butts to do exactly what we asked of them and it paid off. We will savor this one for a while."

"Coach Wills told us that this game is fun, not giggles-type fun, but the fun that comes from winning," Beaver said. "I can feel that now."

Beaver was the Panthers' answer to equalize Berkeley Springs' perimeter game. Three times when the Indians tied the score in the third quarter, Beaver hit 3s to put Hancock ahead.

"The Hancock team we played tonight is definitely not the one we played a week ago," Berkeley Springs coach Dale McCumbee said. "My hat is off to them. That was a tremendous effort, especially in the fourth quarter."

It was in that quarter that the Panthers fought desperately to hold off the Indians as they made a last-ditch effort to regain their composure and the lead. With just under three minutes left, a Jessica Jenkins jumper brought the Indians within 45-43. But Beaver raced down the left side and pulled up to nail a 19-footer. Almost immediately, Moats took an outlet pass from Willison and scored.

"I think (Berkeley Springs) got a little tired at the end," Willison said. "We were playing with so much emotion."

"I thought we were leg weary, especially in the first quarter," McCumbee said. "Our defensive play hurt our offense because we weren't pushing the ball as hard."

Fox finished with a game-high 19 points.

In the consolation game, Southern Fulton jumped out to a 34-8 lead in the first half and never looked back in defeating Clear Spring, 61-19.

The Indians had 10 players off the bench score while holding the Blazers to single digits through four quarters. Candace Bard had a game-high 15 points for Southern Fulton. Megan Blickenstaff led Clear Spring with seven points.

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