Panthers battle but fall short in first round game

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SALINA — Somebody forgot to tell the Concordia Panthers that the number eight seed is supposed to be an easy mark for the top seed.
The eighth-seeded Panthers battled the top-seeded Abilene Cowgirls to the final minute before falling 56-50 in the opening round of the Salina Invitational Tournament Monday night at Salina South High School.
Concordia trailed most of the way against North Central Kansas League rival Abilene, but wouldn’t go away.
Trailing 16-9 after one quarter of play, but closed the gap to four points in the second period.
Abilene opened up a 16-point advantage in the third quarter.
The Panthers made a run late to get within six points, but couldn’t overtake the Cowgirls.
“It was one of those games where I felt like we ran out of time,” Concordia coach Michael Wahlmeier said.
Concordia (1-9) will play Sacred Heart (5-5) at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the consolation bracket.
Sacred Heart was beaten 47-18 by Salina South in the opening round.
“They know they can play with the top teams in this tournament. It should give us a boost going into that second-round game,” Wahlmeier said.
Abilene (8-2) will play Salina South (8-2) in the semifinals.
In the other first-round games, Salina Central got past Clay Center 61-51 and Andover rolled over Smoky Valley, 61-29.
Salina Central and Andover will meet in the semifinals. Clay Center and Smoky Valley play in the consolation bracket.
Abilene, which had beaten Concordia 47-30 in an earlier meeting, jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the game.
Four straight points by Megan James and a jumper by Nikki Blankenbeckley gave Concordia its only lead of the game, 7-6.
Abilene responded by scoring 10 straight points, five by 5-11 freshman Belle Barbieri, to go up 16-7.
Barbieri scored 23 points in the game.
“She is good at finding the ball and going back up quickly. I think most of her points came off putbacks,” Wahlmeier said.
A basket by Tristen Leiszler got Concordia within seven points, 16-9.
The Panthers pulled within four points, 18-14, early in the second quarter.
A 10-2 spurt gave Abilene a 28-16 advantage.
The Cowgirls led 31-21 at halftime.
Concordia scored the first two points of the second half, but consecutive three-point baskets by Courtney Geist and Gracie Sexton and two free throws by Kiley Crider gave the Cowgirls their biggest lead at 39-23.
The Panthers got as close as 12 points, but trailed 46-32 heading into the final eight minutes of play.
It was a 48-34 game when consecutive baskets by Molly Adams cut the deficit to 10 points, 48-38.
Barbieri answered with two straight baskets.
Trailing 52-38, Concordia launched a comeback.
James, Adams and Blankenbeckley scored to pull the Panthers within eight points, 52-44, with 1:25 to play.
Abilene was able to beat the Concordia pressure, and Barbieri made a layup.
Blankenbeckley knocked down her first three-point shot of the season, and Concordia forced a turnover.
Adams grabbed an offensive rebound, and was fouled. She made one of two free throws, and the Panthers trailed 54-48 with 21 seconds on the clock.
Two free throws by Geist seven seconds later made it a 56-48 game.
Katie Lambert scored as time ran out to make the final margin six points.
James led the way for Concordia with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Adams scored a season high 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
“Megan and Molly really played well inside,” Wahlmeier said.
Blankenbeckley scored nine points and handed out five assists.
Leiszler had seven points and four assists.
Maggie Lambert also finished with five assists.
Crider scored nine points for Abilene.

CONCORDIA (50)
K. Lambert 1-1-3 3, Adams 6-1-4 13, Blankenbeckley 4-0-2 9, Boley 0-1-2 1, Leiszler 3-0-2 7, James 8-1-1 17. Totals: 22-4-14 50.
ABILENE (56)
GASSMAN 1-0-1 2, Geist 2-2-0 7, Guy 1-0-3 2, Sexton 3-0-1 9, Crider 3-4-0 11, Barbieri 9-5-2 23, Taylor 1-0-5 2. Totals: 20-11-12 56.

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