AMBER — Latta senior Shaylee Senkel has a reputation. But don’t worry, it’s a good one.
Senkel is known to be one of the top on-ball defenders in Class 2A girls basketball. But her offense has been kind of an afterthought.
That is, until now.
Senkel scored a season-high 13 points and was fouled on many drives to the baskets to help Latta push past No. 17 Amber-Pocasset 56-46 Monday afternoon in a Class 2A Regional Tournament consolation game in Amber.
“It’s a new season. I’ve been working on my shot, and I’ve started to become more confident in practice. I just realized I’ve got to score to get us where we need to be,” said Senkel, who finished 2-for-4 from the field with a 3-pointer and 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.
With the win, the unranked Lady Panthers improved to 17-12 and advanced to the Class 2A Area Tournament in Chickasha, where they’ll face No. 9 Vanoss in a highly-anticipated all-local elimination matchup.
The game was close throughout the first half.
Amber-Pocasset sharpshooter Carli Eubank hit a pair of 3-pointers to open the second quarter. Her second triple put the hosts ahead 16-11 at the 5:52 mark of the period.
Latta got within 20-18 on a drive to the basket for a layup by Kendra Hisaw with 2:39 left in the second frame, but Am-Po scored the final three points of the quarter to take a 25-20 lead at halftime.
The local Lady Panthers used a full-court press to rattle Am-Po to start the second half, and that keyed an 11-2 Latta burst to open the third period. Hisaw had the first five points of the spurt, and Chloe Brinlee had the final four — including a layup off a nice pass from post player Emma Epperly that put Latta ahead 31-27 at the 3:42 mark.
Am-po stayed close and got within 39-38 heading to the fourth quarter and tied it with a free throw from Ashley Kemp at the 6:29 mark. Epperly, who was bottled up all night by the Amber-Pocasset defense, fouled out on that play with only four points.
The Lady Panthers held the host to just a pair of free throws for nearly five minutes. Shelby Garrett and Macy Smith hit 3-pointers in an 11-2 run during that span that helped put Am-Po away.
“I just think it was our will to win,” said Latta head coach Bruce Plunk when asked about the difference between his team’s play in the first and second half. Latta outscored the hosts 36-21 over the final two frames.
“We came out in our full-court press, and that hurt them. We forced some turnovers and were able to capitalize,” Plunk, who celebrated his 57th birthday with the win, explained.
The Lady Panthers hit eight of their first nine 3-point attempts (and finished 8-of-10) — including three by Hisaw and three by Garrett.
“We were handcuffed inside. Our post players stayed in foul trouble. Our guards really stepped up tonight,” Plunk said. “Our shooting touch is starting to come back. We had a dry spell there for a while. If that keeps happening, they won’t be able to sit back in there on our post players.”
“We came out a little slow and a little sluggish. They covered on our post and our outside game had to show up, and it did,” she said.
Plunk said he’s been waiting to see the offensive side of Senkel show up like it did Monday afternoon.
“Shaylee had her best offensive night of the year. We’ve been working on her confidence. That three she hit was a big deal,” he said. “And then Shelby and Macy put some nails in the coffin (in the fourth quarter). Those were two big threes.”
Hisaw finished with 19 points to pace the LHS offense, while Garrett added 10. Brinlee added seven points and five rebounds.
“That’s what I like about this team. You never know who’s going to have a big night,” Plunk said. “We’re looking forward to playing another day.”
Three Am-Po players scored nearly all of its points — Caton Muncy (20 points), Kemp (13) and Eubank (11).