MCDERMOTT – The Clay Panthers are a different team with Jensen Warnock on the court, rather than the senior captain being off of it.
Due to an injury sustained to Warnock in the early fourth quarter of the Panthers sectional final game with Western Saturday afternoon, Clay was this close to falling, without having claimed their second consecutive sectional title.
However, in true Willis Reed-fashion, Warnock returned to the game, and helped lead the Panthers to a 57-50 win at Northwest High School.
“The girls definitely feel comfortable with those five,” said Clay head coach Scott Artis when speaking on his starting five and reemergence of Warnock into Saturday’s game. “They’ve played with each other every year since the third grade, there’s a comfort level there. When one of them goes out, especially in a tight game like that, they start to second guess some things. Once they got their composure and started to handle things, and Jensen comes back in, they settled back in and felt like everything was going to be alright.”
Warnock finished second on the Panthers with 17 points, trailing only senior teammate Sophia Balestra who finished with a game high 19 for the Panthers in their sectional final win.
“Sophie’s my rock,” said Artis, “She’s all over the court, she’s one of those athletes that has a nose for the ball. She knows where to be at all times. It doesn’t matter if she’s outsized like she has been all year long, and she always comes through for us in the end.”
The up and down tempo of the Panthers regular season pace helped win games like Saturday, but due to the number of fouls called and pace of play the game ran at mostly, it helped prepare for a more subdued tempo that the Panthers may likely see as they advance further into the district tournament.
“We definitely took our time. We know Western pretty well, we tried to guess what they would try to do. Given that, we’ve worked on it all week. It is nice as a coach to be able to sit down and prepare for one team, and the girls go out and execute like they did tonight.”
Western was led in scoring by Sylvia Evans who finished with a team high 19 points. Evans also broke the 1,000 point mark for her career in the Indians sectional semifinal win over Whiteoak.
Clay advances to the district semifinals on Thursday where they will face Eastern Meigs this Thursday at Jackson High School at 8:00 p.m. with a spot in the district final on the line.
The most important thing moving forward for the Panthers with their spot in the district tournament sealed? Getting back in the film room and working on the things that have gotten them to this point.
“We’re going to go and do as much research as we can,” said Artis when asked about district semifinal opponent Eastern Meigs. “We like to go game by game, we didn’t want to look past this one too much. We’ll go study everything we can against them, and we’ll play our game, and hopefully that’s what wins the game for us.”
Clay: 11-13-18-15 – 57
Western: 5-10-17-18 – 50
Clay: 18 FG, 2 3PT (DeLotell 2), 19/35 FT. Scoring: Balestra 19, Je. Warnock 17, Ja. Warnock 8, DeLotell 8, Artis 5
Western: 18 FG, 5 3PT (Gast 3), 9/18 FT. Scoring: Evans 19, Gast 13, Whitt 10, Beekman 4, Horner 3, Marhoover 1
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT