ROCHESTER | Few teams overachieved this season like the Griffith Panthers.
After a slow start to the season, Griffith saw marked improvement and came out of seemingly nowhere to win a sixth straight sectional title. But when push came to shove in Saturday morning’s Class 3A Rochester Regional semifinal, Kankakee Valley was too fast, too tall and too strong.
The Kougars won 54-34.
Bre Toppen scored a game-high 18 points for K.V. (16-6) and Lauren Stokes added 15. Courtney Bell led Griffith (12-11) with 16 points, the only Panther in double figures.
K.V.’s defense set the tone early, forcing turnovers and challenging nearly all of Griffith’s shots. The Kougars grabbed 15 steals, led by six from Stokes.
“Their guards put a lot of pressure on our guards, and it was hard for our guards to handle that,” Griffith coach Tom Golumback said. “You’ve got to give them credit; they had a good game plan.”
The Kougars kept the Panthers off the scoreboard until nearly six minutes into the game and had doubled-up the score by midway through the second quarter. The Kougars never trailed and advance past the regional semifinal round for the first time in program history.
“I told the girls we probably got as much out of them as we could have,” Golumback said. “That’s obviously nothing to be ashamed of.
“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t very good. We have two kids that contribute (who) last year were playing eighth grade basketball. We’ve gotten better as the season went on and that’s what we wanted to do. In that regard, we achieved all of the goals we wanted to. We told them we were proud of them.”
The Panthers will lose just one starter, Jasmine Alvarez, to graduation and will return three-quarters of the total roster. Golumback hopes the small turnover will help Griffith make another deep run – perhaps deeper – next season.
“We have a lot of kids coming back,” Golumback said. “Obviously, we’re going to miss our seniors. That said, the future looks pretty good next year. We return Courtney and a couple of our bigs, so we told them we’re hoping to get back here and maybe go a little bit farther next year. That’s always the goal.”