By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
If there were doubts about the ability of this year’s Monticello High School girls basketball team, they were no doubt erased last week.
The Panthers (7-3, 11-3) showed they belong with the elite teams not only in the conference, but also in the state, by beating two ranked opponents in consecutive games.
Their opponents were Maquoketa Valley, which came into the game against Monticello ranked 10th in Class 2A; and Cascade, ranked fifth in 3A.
First, Paxtyn Keleher’s driving lay-up with 4.1 seconds to play in the second overtime proved to be the difference, as Monticello edged Maquoketa Valley 45-43 Tuesday, Jan. 8 in Monticello.
Keleher took a rebound off a missed MV shot and broke the length of the floor, scoring on a lay-up from the left side and being fouled.
She missed the ensuing free throw, but MV’s last-ditch three-point shot from just inside the half-court line bounced off the backboard and missed the rim.
“I was thinking we needed a big play,” Keleher said after the game.
It was a big win for the Panthers, who had a special motivation.
“(Coach Donnie Kremer) was saying that the town was doubting us,” Keleher said. “We’ve never heard that before.”
“The girls were fired up for the game,” Kremer said. “They wanted to prove that we belong and can play with the top tier teams in the conference.
“These girls have played a lot of basketball throughout the years. Many of them have been in situations like this, and knew that they needed to keep their focus.”
Maquoketa Valley coach Scot Moenck said: “This was a tough one to swallow. I really felt our kids battled the whole night. We gave ourselves a chance to win, but again, we seem to leave a lot of points on the floor. Against a good team like Monticello it will come back to bite you, and it did.”
Maquoketa Valley led for large portions of the wild, loud, emotional game, but never by double digits. The largest lead was 19-11 in the second quarter, but the Panthers pulled to within one point, 21-20, by halftime.
The teams traded leads in the second half, with neither leading by more than three. Maquoketa Valley had the last chance with the ball in regulation time, with the score tied 36-36. One shot was deflected out of bounds, giving the Wildcats the ball with 1.9 seconds left, and the visitors couldn’t get another shot off.
Each team scored two points in the first overtime. This time, a last-second shot for Monticello missed the mark, and the teams went to another extra session.
The Wildcats took a 43-40 lead with 58.4 seconds to play on a free throw by Heidi Hoeger. Lael Lubben answered for Monticello, scoring off an offensive rebound with 38 seconds remaining.
Two missed free throws by MV gave Monticello another chance. Keleher was fouled with 22.0 seconds left, and made one of two free throws, tying the score 43-43.
The Wildcats had two chances under the basket with less than 20 seconds to play, but missed both, and Keleher got the second rebound and drove for the eventual winning basket.
Allison Kraus led the Panthers in scoring with 10 points. Lubben had eight points and 15 rebounds.
For Maquoketa Valley, Nicole Kudrna had a double-double with 13 points and 17 rebounds. Renee Huber scored 18 points.
Monticello appeared ready to come down to earth on Friday at Cascade, when the host Cougars took an eight-point lead, 28-20, with 6:50 left in the fourth quarter.
What they didn’t know was that they wouldn’t score a basket that entire period, as Monticello mounted perhaps its best comeback of the season, rallying to win 36-32 Jan. 11.
“We did not change anything defensively in the second half,” Kremer said. “We wanted to stop any penetration and keep their cutters in front. I thought we played very good help defense for a majority of the game.
Keleher was in the middle of it, scoring 10 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter.
“Paxtyn continues to play solid basketball,” Kremer said. “She has a great basketball IQ. She seems to know where to be at the right time.”
Keleher scored on an offensive rebound with 6:05 to play, and making another shot with 4:28 left to cut the deficit to four.
With 3:46 remaining, Keleher was fouled and sank both free throws, and suddenly Cascade’s lead was down to two. A free throw by Lael Lubben, and two more free throws by Keleher, put the Panthers ahead 29-28 with 3:06 left.
Cascade made four straight free throws to regain a 32-29 lead, but then Andrea Bone sank a three-point shot from the right corner with 1:25 left to tie the game.
Keleher got to the line twice more in the final minute, making two of four free throws, and the Panthers led 34-32 with 30.4 seconds left.
Lubben rebounded a missed shot by Cascade, then clinched the win with a pair of clutch free throws with 2.8 seconds left.
The Panthers were scheduled to play Alburnett Jan. 15 at home, and at Central City Jan. 18.
Maq.V. 13 8 12 3 2 5 - 43
Monti 9 11 10 6 2 7 – 45
MONTICELLO (45) - Mandi Miles 1-4 1-2 3, Andrea Bone 2-6 3-4 8, Paxtyn Keleher 2-6 4-9 8, Lael Lubben 4-5 0-0 8, Allison Kraus 4-8 2-4 10, Ellen Schlarmann 0-1 2-3 2, Allison Ries 0-1 0-3 0, Hannah Thompson 2-2 0-0 4, Sonya McCormick 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 16-38 12-25 45.
MAQUOKETA VALLEY (43) – Ashley Holtz 0-3 0-3 0, Renee Huber 5-16 8-12 18, Heidi Hoeger 1-8 3-8 5, Nicole Kudrna 6-12 1-1 13, Brooke Wooten 2-7 3-4 7, Abby Jay 0-0 0-0 0, Annay Jay 0-2 0-0 0, Heather Sabers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-48 15-28 43.
Rebounds: Monticello 40 (Lubben 15, Kraus 7), Maquoketa Valely 35 (Kudrna 17).
Total fouls: Monticello 22, Maquoketa Valley 20.
Monticello 8 3 9 16 – 36
Cascade 7 9 10 6 – 32
MONTICELLO (36) - Mandi Miles 0-5 0-0 0, Andrea Bone 1-3 0-0 3, Paxtyn Keleher 4-10 8-13 16, Lael Lubben 0-4 5-6 5, Allison Kraus 0-0 3-6 3, Ellen Schlarmann 2-3 1-1 5, Hannah Thompson 0-1 2-2 2, Sonya McCormick 1-6 0-0 2, Allison Ries 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 8-32 19-29 36.
CASCADE (32) - Abbey Meyer 0-5 2-4 2, Holly Hunt 3-4 1-2 8, Molly Vonderhaar 1-5 0-1 2, Brianna Hostert 1-6 0-0 3, Aspen Lynch 1-5 3-6 5, Katelyn Green 1-3 0-0 2, Elle Hoffman 2-2 0-0 4, Megan McDermott 0-0 2-2 2, Mallory McDermott 0-1 0-0 0, Carolyn Trumm 0-2 4-4 4. Totals 9-33 12-19 32.
Three-pointers: Bone; Hunt, Hostert.
Rebounds: Monticello 31 (Lubben 8, Keleher 7, Kraus 6), Cascade 24.
Total fouls: Cascade 21, Monticello 18.
PHOTO: Allison Ries goes to the hoop for Monticello in the home game against Maquoketa Valley Jan. 8. (Photo by Pete Temple)