The Gilbert Tigers, ranked No. 8 in Class 4A, hosted the Knoxville Panthers Saturday, Feb. 22.
Knoxville played well in the first quarter yet they still trailed a talented Gilbert squad 24-19 at the close of the first quarter.
Maggie Wilkins got the Panthers off to the fast start with nine points in the opening stanza.
Junior Thea Rotto had the hot hand for Gilbert. As she worked her way through the lane to toss in 12 points in the opening quarter.
Gilbert would expand the advantage to 46-28 at halftime. Katie Keitges had two of Knoxville’s three field goals in the second quarter, the other being a 3-point shot by Emma Dunkin.
Panther Coach Jim Uitermarkt stated, “Gilbert was flawless in the first half, we switched between three different defenses and they answered them all. Gilbert shot 74 percent in the first half, which is absolutely unheard of. It put us in the 18 point deficit at the half. We were actually ok with the points we put up in the first half, but giving up 46, put us in a tough spot.”
He added, “I challenged the girls at halftime to not give up and fight for the season.”
The Tigers largest lead of the night was 59-36 in the third quarter. Quarter number three closed with the Tigers on top 59-40.
Uitermarkt stated, “Again, I challenged the girls to not quit. Again, they came out fighting. We took some chances defensively in the 4th quarter with some traps and they paid off with steals.”
The Panthers put on the rally hats and made it rather exciting and tense at the end in a 76-68 loss.
Knoxville got as close as six, but wouldn’t get any closer.
A 3-point goal by Dunkin got the deficit to 10 at 65-55. Keitges hit three straight goals, one being a three to put the score at 70-62 with 1;09 left.
The comeback continued with Dunkin nailing a 3-point shot with 1:03 left to put the margin at 70-64.
Gilbert hit just enough free throws at the end to hold off the KHS charge.
“We had them reeling but just ran out of time,” Uitermarkt replied.
Gilbert was 19-of-31 at the foul line and Knoxville 15-of-28.
The Tigers had four players in double digits led by Rotto with 20. Next came Nessa Johnson with 13, Emma Bulman 12 and Ava Hawthorne with 11.
Knoxville was led by their lone senior on the court, Katie Keitges. She had to work hard for her points, but she popped in 24 to lead the way offensively.
Next came junior Maggie Wilkins with 21 points.
Knoxville got a big boost from both Emma Dunkin and Charlee Heffron. Dunkin had 13 points and Heffron finished with six.
Rounding out the KHS attack were Marley McKay and Tara Uitermarkt each with two points.
Keitges and Heffron were board leaders with five each. Keitges also had seven assists and five steals.
Knoxville’s season closed with a final mark of 20-3 overall. Gilbert moved down the tournament trail with a record of 18-3. The Tigers have now won nine in a row.
In closing, Uitermarkt said, “I have never been so proud of a team as I was of this team on this night and all year. The deficit they faced at half and the end of the third might have seemed insurmountable to them, but they refused to give in. This team has incredible heart and they just kept battling together.”
He continued, “There are so many things we could look back on and say “what if”, but in the end Gilbert was amazing in the first half and that is ultimately where the game was decided.”