Panthers unable to overcome Fairfield powerhouse.
Byline: Sawyer McGrath Sports Correspondent
On February 26 Pana traveled to Vandalia to take on Fairfield in the first game of sectionals. Pana had just come off two hard-fought regional wins over top teams from Casey-Westfield and Marshall, being the obvious underdog in both matchups.
Fairfield came in to the sectional with a record of 31-2, having lost to Olney and, ironically, Casey-Westfield. They dominated their season by playing with a deep bench, regularly rotating at least nine players.
In the opening eight minutes of the game Fairfield scored 20 points and showcased excellent defense as they held the Panthers to only five. However, Pana looked good coming out as Brevin Blackwell knocked down a three and Jonah Lauff made it to the line to connect on two free shots. Pana fought very hard, but their opponent took the lead early on and made it an uphill battle for the Panthers.
Pana continued to fight in the second quarter and they were able connect on a few shots from Jack Armstong, Drew Ambrose, and Lauff which gave them six more points on the board before the half. Fairfield was pressing on defense and they were very efficient at this style of play as they held Pana to six points in the quarter. Fairfield continues to make plays on the offensive end, adding 15 more points to the board.
Coming out of the locker room, Fairfield seemed to have gotten plenty of rest as their offense was able to score in a variety of ways and score 21 more points. They showed signs of being a very well-rounded basketball team on both offense and defense as they outscored Pana 20-7 in quarter three.
In the final minutes of the exhibition, Pana's offense started to play like it had in the previous three games as they outscored Fairfield 15-14. Despite Pana's slight scoring advantage in the fourth it wasn't enough to overcome Fairfield's fast-paced playing style.
For Pana, Lucas Holthaus scored four points off the bench, Drake Spracklen knocked down a three-pointer, Colin Schmitz scored two and so did the three seniors Blackwell, Armstrong and Jared Beyers -- their last points in a Panther uniform. When the buzzer sounded Fairfield came out on top 70-33. Armstrong led in scoring for Pana with seven points, followed by Ambrose with six. Blackwell put up five, and Lauff and Holthaus four each. Spracklen managed three and Schmitz and Beyers had two each.
Fairfield went on to play in the sectional final March 1, where they were defeated by Teutopolis.