DIXON -- United Township girls' basketball coach Justin Shiltz summed up his team's play in one word –bittersweet.
Shiltz felt that way after seeing the Panthers fall to Rockford Lutheran 58-55 in the fifth-place game ofthe Dixon Tournament Saturday night. Earlier in the morning, UT pulled away to an easy 57-35 win overDunlap.
"We played so well early," Shiltz said of the first game. "And we had the opportunity to in the secondone. We just didn't take advantage."
UT (9-8) ran into major trouble midway through the second half against Rockford Lutheran (12-3). That'sbecause the Crusaders went on a 15-0 run in building a 41-30 lead late in the third quarter. Playingits third game in less than 21 hours, the Panthers tried to reach back for a little extra spark down thestretch.
Katie Daggett scored eight of her team-high 16 points in the final quarter, including a pair of free throwswith 35 seconds left, drawing UT within 56-53. After Sam Rundblade split a pair of free throws forthe Crusaders, ShaTavia Lowery scored on a drive for the Panthers, cutting the margin to one. RachelKonieczki then missed a pair of free throws and UT regained possession.
Driving in from the right side, Lowery kicked the ball to Jaime VanWatermeulen who took a 10-foot shotalong the right baseline with 2 seconds left. Unfortunately for UT, her shot fell short and Baille McGirkgrabbed the rebound and was fouled to seal the difference.
Shiltz was forced to go well into his bench early in the game. Jaime VanWatermeulen picked up
two fouls less than 90 seconds into the game and sat the remainder of the first half. Yet, the Panthersheld their ground, thanks to Lowery taking care of the ball, and the scoring contribution from Jada Harrisand Amy Heiland. Harris finished with 12 points, while Heiland scored all five of her points in the firsthalf during VanWatermeulen's absence.
Thanks to UT's bench, they led 26-24 at halftime, before the Crusaders came calling.
Rundblade led all scorers with 25 points; Konieczki added 18.
"These kind of games usually come down to runs," Rockford Lutheran coach Joni Carlson said. "We knew(UT) would be tough inside. And (Lowery) gave us a lot of trouble with her quickness. For our guards tobe able to play like this, we're very excited."
Shiltz tried to let his team play through Rockford Lutheran's scoring spurt, but they never regained thelead the last 13 minutes of the game.
"I think it's certainly not an excuse, but we hit the wall there in the second half," Shiltz said. "That's thepart of the game where you have to find a way to get through it. I'll admit, perhaps I should have calleda timeout to get us settled down. But we needed those at the end too.
"Good teams get through those things, and I think we can. But we're not there yet."
Daggett, who added 15 rebounds in the fifth-place game, played well in the earlier game, tallying 13
points and seven rebounds against Dunlap (7-8). That victory avenged the Panthers 63-52 season-
opening loss to the Eagles in the Galesburg Tournament on Nov. 13.
Jen VanWatermeulen added 11 points and seven rebounds. Taylor Dobrinske finished with 10
points for the Panthers.
"When we played (Dunlap) earlier, everybody had season-opening jitters," Daggett said. "We knew wehad to get started out of the gate. And we got it done."