Am-Po wanted to make it sixth straight titles in the Grady County Basketball Tournament and the Lady Panthers did by besting Rush Springs, 50-41, Saturday night in the championship game at Drover Fieldhouse.
By bringing the current streak up to six straight GCBT championships, the program surpasses the mark of five it set from 1976-80.
And there were plenty of former Lady Panthers in attendance from previous squads involved in the streak.
“You know that when you have former players coming up to you that are in this streak that want us to a win it so bad because they were part of it, because they started it,” Am-Po coach Sam Belcher said. “Nobody else has got six, so its just a memory for these kids, and that’s what’s the most important to me.”
The Lady Panthers (16-4) had four players finishing in double digits, with Whitney Henderson scoring the most with 14 points. Jordan Garner put up 12 and Michelle Olson and Hunter Martin each posted 10.
But as is the case in most championship games, it didn’t come easy.
The Lady Panthers had to overcome early control by the Lady Redskins setting up scenarios for Chandler Nichols to score quickly via tip-ins, including one after taking a pass from Kaylin Rennaker.
Rush Springs also threatened a rally from an 11-point deficit in the second half, but Am-Po was able to stave it off.
Nichols scored almost half of the Lady Redskins points, leading the way with 20.
A 3 by Rennaker put the Lady Redskins up 11-7 with 1:34 left in the first session, their largest lead of the night.
Rush Springs (10-6) led by two points as the first period closed, but Am-Po turned up the pressure and settled into its offensive routine.
A 3-pointer from Michelle Olson gave Am-Po its first lead at the start of the second quarter, but an 8-4 Lady Redskin run put the challenger on top 20-17.
But Am-Po would take the lead a few minutes later and never lose it.
“We just had to get into a rhythm,” Belcher said. “The girls came out and had a good game plan. It took us a little bit to get adjusted to what they were doing defensively.
“We were a little bit slow in the beginning making the shots. But we tried to speed them up a little bit and it finally worked for us.”
Garner put Am-Po up for good at 21-20 when she nailed a basket directly from the top of the key with around 2:25 left in the half.
A driving lay-up by Whitney Henderson before the halftime buzzer put a stamp on the Lady Panthers’ getting the momentum shift and they led 25-20 at the break.
“That shot gave us a little momentum going into halftime,” Belcher said. “And we talked about wanting to build on that. We tried to make a few adjustments defensively, but we didn’t do a very good job executing in the third quarter, trying to keep the ball out of Nichols’ hands. But we did hold on.”
Nichols scored first for Rush Springs to start the second half, but the Lady Panthers kept rolling.
A 3 by Henderson gave Am-Po its biggest lead at 35-24 in the third period. But the Lady Redskins answered back with an 8-0 run to draw within three, which included a backcourt steal from Rennaker that set up a lay-up from Bailey Beard.
Martin increased the advantage to 40-32 with a 3-point play and a put-back. After the Rush Springs cut it four, free throws resulting from fouls accounting for most of the scoring.
“We struggled there in the fourth quarter with scoring, but we played enough defense to keep ourselves in the game.”
Their win, along with the boys’ denial of Verden getting the fifth straight championship on that side of the bracket, also marked a sweep for the school