BURLINGTON – First place in the Southern Lakes Conference was there for the sharing once again, but the Wilmot girls basketball team had to settle for second after a 46-41 loss at Burlington on Thursday.
Union Grove defeated Waterford, 53-34, to claim its third straight title.
“It really sucks,” the Panthers’ Delaney Sjong said. “I don’t know what to say. That’s about it.”
Wilmot and Union Grove tied for first place last season, but the Panthers did not help their chances by losing to the Broncos on Feb. 7.
“It’s one of those games, where yeah, it’s going to hurt for a while, but we’ve just got to keep going,” Wilmot’s Julia Hickey said.
Morgan Zenon scored a game-high 10 points for Wilmot, which finishes with an 11-3 record in the conference and is 14-7 overall. Burlington won its season-high fifth game in a row to take third place with a 10-4 mark (13-9 overall).
The Demons had lost the last three games to the Panthers, including a 53-46 decision on Jan. 13, but held on to win despite scoring just two points in the final 5-plus minutes.
“It’s not so much about playing the spoiler for us, we were more focused on keeping our win streak going into the tournament,” Burlington coach Mary Parker said.
For more than half of the second half, Burlington was content on offense to run at least 1 minute off the clock while protecting its lead.
The Demons led, 44-34, after a basket from Mackenzie Zwiebel from the right corner with 5:41 remaining, but they would score just two more points the rest of the way.
“It made it a lot more difficult,” Parker said. “The girls knew we were looking to have long possessions with the ball, and hopefully take some of their wind out of their sails a little bit.”
Burlington missed its final three shots, went just 2-for-6 from the free-throw line and committed three turnovers the rest of the way, but Wilmot’s rally still came up short.
The Panthers scored seven straight points to get within 44-41 on a put-back on an offensive rebound by Sjong with 3:03 left. But they would not score again.
After a free throw gave Burlington a 45-41 lead with 1:40 to go, Wilmot missed a three-pointer before finishing with two turnovers and two more missed shots on its final four possessions.
“Offensively, we just didn’t finish very well,” Wilmot coach Keiya Square said. “I know we had a lot of shots around the rim, we were 1-for-7 from the free-throw line and defensively, I think we were just a half-step behind sometimes and they made some things happen.”
In the first half, a 3-pointer from the left wing from McKenna Stanek gave Wilmot a 19-13 lead with 5:45 remaining.
But Burlington responded by scoring the next nine points. The Demons took their first lead, 20-19, on a basket by Megan Wallace, and led at halftime, 22-21. They opened the second half on a 7-0 run for a 29-21 lead and slowly started to stall more on each possession.
Afterward, Square did not need to remind his team what was at stake.
“They knew that coming in, so there’s not much we can say about it,” the coach said. “But at this point of the season, we did tell the girls this one is in the past and now we get ready for the playoffs. If we dwell on this one, and then go out and lose our first playoff game, then it’s going to hurt even more than this one does.”
The second-seeded Panthers have a first-round bye and will host Jefferson or Central on Feb. 24.
Can Wilmot, which has lost three of its last four games, turn things around?
“I think we can,” Sjong said. “I think we’ll be fine.”