The Saratoga Sun -

Lady Panthers break the ceiling

After 16 years, Saratoga girls head to State Championship following 3-1 weekend


Photo courtesy Mary Martin

Whitney Bennett (20) works to get the ball past a Lady Huskie in Lander.

The Saratoga Lady Panthers, for the first time in 16 years, are heading to compete in Casper. The last time the Lady Panthers were at the State Tournament was during the 2003-2004 season when they were in the 2A conference. Since then, the Saratoga girls have worked to get back to the Casper Events Center and showcase their talents.

Last year, the Lady Panthers secured a spot at the 1A West Regional Tournament following a pigtail game against the Encampment Lady Tigers and were ultimately eliminated by the Little Snake River Valley Lady Rattlers.

This year went quite different for Saratoga as they were able to fight their way through the Burlington Lady Huskies, Cokeville Lady Panthers, Meeteetse Lady Longhorns and into the consolation finals and sink their claws into the Farson-Eden Lady Pronghorns for a 3rd place finish in Lander.

"Overall, we had a great weekend winning three out of four games. I was so proud of the girls," said Heather Bartlett, head coach for the Lady Panthers. "The Saratoga girls haven't been to state in basketball for 16 years and that is a big ceiling to break through, so there was a lot of expectations and pressure on the girls this weekend."

Lady Panthers vs.

Lady Huskies

"Our first game with Burlington went really great. Both teams really had come ready to play and it was a very competitive, intense game right from the start," Bartlett said. "We were ahead most of the game, but usually only an average of maybe 4 points. During the 4th quarter we got up by 12 points and they started to press us."

According to Bartlett, the Lady Panthers struggled with the press from Burlington and the Lady Huskies came to within 2 points of Saratoga. Eventually, Saratoga collected themselves and were able to surge ahead for their first win of the weekend.

Going up against the Lady Huskies, Savannah Wells shot a total of four 3-pointers, which contributed to her overall scoring of 21 points. Following Wells was Whitney Bennett, who also scored 21 points against Burlington.

After going to the consolation bracket, the Lady Huskies would defeat the St. Stephens Lady Eagles only to fall to the Lady Pronghorns in the consolation semifinals.

The final score was 55-44.

Lady Panthers vs.

Lady Panthers

Throughout the regular season, Cokeville had managed to hang onto their No. 1 spot in the 1A Southwest Conference, sitting just above Saratoga. While the Saratoga girls would fall to Cokeville during regionals, Bartlett was able to see silver linings in the game.

"Our Cokeville game actually went much better than the other two times we have played them," said Bartlett. "We decided to play man-to-man defense against them and the girls came out much more intense and played really hard. We were winning at the end of the 1st quarter and (were) close at halftime."

While the orange and black Lady Panthers eventually pulled ahead, Bartlett felt that the purple and gold Lady Panthers played better and had a much better showing than earlier in the season.

Makiya Johnson was the standout in the game against Cokeville with a total of 10 points and 8 rebounds.

The final score was 34-65.

Lady Panthers vs.

Lady Longhorns

Following their loss to Cokeville, the Lady Panthers descended into the consolation bracket where they faced Meeteetse in the consolation semifinals. 

"Our Meeteetse game was the most intense game of the tournament as this was the game that was 'win and go to state or lose and go home.' We actually came out really flat against them," Bartlett said. "I think that nerves were a big factor. A few of our players really struggled to get into a groove during this game."

Wells and senior Jenna Dew, however, were able to help lead Saratoga to a win with 10 points each.

"Makiya Johnson also had 6 poins and was a real emotional spark for our team the whole game, keeping everyone going when things were hard," said Bartlett.

Freshman Sam Fiedor also stepped up for the Lady Panthers as she made 3 free throws in the 2nd half when they were needed to keep Saratoga going.

With a win under their belts to continue going, the Lady Panthers advanced to the consolation semifinals while Meeteetse went home.

The final score was 38-26.

Lady Panthers vs.

Lady Pronghorns

Throughout the regular season, Saratoga had been able to sink their claws into the Lady Pronghorns for conference wins. At regionals, however, anything can happen and the Lady Panthers and Farson-Eden battled to determine who would get the No. 3 West seed at the State Tournament.

"The game against Farson was a tough game to play after everyone had already played hard that morning," Bartlett said. "We had a really comfortable lead of about 15 points going into the half and then we kind of lost it over the course of the 2nd half. We were able to hang on and win by 6 points."

Wells was the lead scorer against the Lady Pronghorns with 11 points and was followed by Johnson with 10 points.

The Lady Panthers secured their third win against Farson-Eden with a final score of 39-33.

Following their 3-1 weekend, Saratoga heads into the 1A State Tournament as the No. 3 West seed.

The Lady Panthers' first game will be at 4:30 p.m. on March 5 against the Upton Lady Bobcats at the Casper Events Center.


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