TERRE HAUTE — Western’s girls basketball team entered Saturday’s Class 3A state finals matchup with Evansville Mater Dei as a heavy underdog.
And, judging from what was on paper, Panthers coach Chris Keisling couldn’t blame pundits for feeling that way. The Wildcats entered Saturday owning an average win margin of 28 points per game, leaving a path of destruction in their wake as they navigated the tournament with ease.
”The little secret was that I knew these kids could do it,” Keisling said.
All Western had to do was execute its gameplan. Keisling saw his team do just about as well as anyone could’ve ever imagined, creating a perfect storm — and perfect recipe — for victory over the Wildcats, 38-35, at Indiana State’s Hulman Center to grab the program’s first state championship and deny Mater Dei a rare three-peat.
Western neutralized Mater Dei’s size advantage, managed to avoid major foul trouble, controlled the pace with a pesky 2-3 zone defense and methodical offense, and like Keisling indicated earlier in the week his team would have to do, knocked down shots in key situations.
“They just never say die,” Keisling said. “They’re winners, and they’re believers in what they can do. It’s one of those things where they saw the mountain in front of them and said ‘Hey, let’s go climb it.’ What an outstanding thing to be part of. I coach the team, but it’s these girls who did a flat-out great job of executing everything we asked them to do.”
The first part of Keisling’s victory recipe occurred early in the game. Senior Jessica Givens buried three 3-pointers in the first quarter as the Panthers hit at a 7-for-12 clip from the field in the opening eight minutes to jump out to a 17-12 advantage at the first stop.