It was just a matter of time before an opponent threw a gimmick defense at the Concordia Panthers in an attempt to slow down high scoring junior Tristen Leiszler.
Abilene, with a box-and-one, was able to bottle up Leiszler, who was averaging 26 points through four games, but couldn’t account for the rest of the Panthers.
Megan James pumped in 16 points, Jordan Eshbaugh scored 10 and Maggie Lambert added eight as Concordia snapped a six-game losing streak to Abilene with a 54-49 North Central Kansas League victory Friday night in the Concordia Junior-Senior High School gymnasium.
Hounded most of the night by Abilene’s Taylor Thompson, Leiszler scored just three points in the first 32 minutes of the game.
With James leading the way, the Panthers battled past the Cowgirls to improve to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in league play.
“It was a nice job of Megan stepping up and leading us and opening it up for other people,” Concordia coach Michael Wahlmeier said, “Tristen has had the hot hand. I knew if we needed it the rest of the team would step up and that was good to see.”
Concordia had not beaten Abilene since the 2009-2010 season, but led nearly the entire game in ending that skid.
On top just 8-7 in the first quarter, the Panthers got a three by Leiszler, a layup by James and baskets by Lambert and Molly Adams to open up a 17-7 advantage.
Abilene, which was 3-0 going into the game, pulled within four points, 19-15, heading into the second quarter.
The two teams spent the next eight minutes trading baskets.
Concordia led 29-23 when Courtney Geist hit a three-point shot with three seconds remaining in the first half to get the Cowgirls within three points, 29-26.
The Panthers, with Eshbaugh and Adams picking up two fouls, battled through some foul trouble in that first half.
“If we could keep our starters on the floor, we could be dangerous,” Wahlmeier said, “Cameron Collins came in and gave us some great minutes.”
Abilene would wrestle the lead away from Concordia early in the third quarter.
Concordia was down 34-33 when Lambert hit a baseline jumper and Adams scored inside to make it a 37-34 game.
The Panthers would not trail again.
Adams finished with seven points and six rebounds.
Abilene’s Belle Barbieri, who scored 12 points, sandwiched a pair of baskets around an Adams' free throw in the first 2:20 of the fourth quarter to pull the Cowgirls even at 40-40.
Barbieri would pick up her fifth foul just 33 seconds later.
A follow by Jennifer Boley gave Concordia the lead back at 42-40.
Clinging to a 46-44 lead, the Panthers beat the Abilene full-court pressure, and Leiszler scored and was fouled. She completed the three-point play to make it 49-44 with 1:38 to play.
Abilene was down 52-46 when McKenzie Funston hit a three to cut the deficit in half, 52-49, with 37 seconds remaining.”
“She was guarded. Megan was right in her face. That was a big one for them,” Wahlmeier said.
James was fouled three seconds later, and hit one of two free throws to put Concordia up 53-49.
Abilene was unable to score, and James made one of two free throws with 10 seconds left to give the Panthers the five-point win.
Eshbaugh and Boley had eight rebounds each for Concordia, and Lambert grabbed seven.
Concordia is off until hosting Clay Center on Jan. 7.
Geist 3-0-3 7, Thompson 0-2-2 2, Anderes 0-0-1 0, Barbieri 5-2-5 12, Funston 4-3-0 13, Hayes 1-1-2 3, Taylor 6-0-5 12. Totals: 19-8-18 49.
Gumm 0-0-1 0, Lambert 4-0-1 8, Collins 10-1 2, Adams 3-1-5 7, Eshbaugh 4-2-3 10, “Boley 2-0-2 4, Leiszler 2-2-3 7, James 5-6-1 16. Totals: 21-11-17 54.