Everyone dreams of getting a last-minute shot to help the team win, imagining it during a shoot-around at practice or at the park, but for United Township freshman Kaylie Pena, that dream became a reality on Saturday night against Alleman.
Pena received the ball on the right side and pulled up from 3 with 27.5 left in the game to pull the Panthers within two at 39-37. After an Alleman turnover, Pena assisted a DaNaijah Cartwright 3 with 6.3 left in the game to seal a 40-39 victory for United Township, their second this season.
United Township coach Carie Walker pulled her freshman aside during an Alleman free-throw attempt and told her to do whatever it takes to get the team the win.
“We talked in the timeout before that about giving the girls the green light from the perimeter,” Walker said. “We had been working inside a lot in the first three quarters and they hadn’t had many shots from outside. I pulled her aside and told her to take the shot if she had space.”
The freshman got her space, and sank her 3 with nothing but net. Pena knew that she had to sink that shot to give her team any chance of winning, and that’s exactly what she did.
“I mentally prepared myself to sink that 3, and I wanted to do anything I could to help the team,” Pena said. “I was ready to shoot and my vision of sinking the shot came true.”
Pena spent a lot of time in the first three quarters in foul trouble but didn’t let that affect her when she stepped back into the game.
“I was just thinking about what I could do to prove to the coaches that I could perform under pressure,” Pena said. “When I got back out there I had to catch up to what my teammates where doing and help get the win. That time on the bench helped me mentally prepare.”
Pena is one of the primary ball handlers for the Panthers (2-8, 2-7) and finished with seven points, two assists, two rebounds and a steal. The Panthers were led by senior standout Jade Hunter with 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field.
Both teams had great control in their half-court offensive sets and limited the score in the first half to just an 18-15 lead for the Panthers. United Township held Alleman to just five points in the third quarter before the Pioneers exploded for 19 points in the fourth. The Panthers were held scoreless for the first 6:06 of the fourth before Hunter broke the scoreless streak with a free-throw.
Preventing the Pioneers from fully coming back was all that was on Walker’s mind following the game.
“This league is so competitive night in and night out and our girls know that every game they have to go out onto the court and play their heart out,” Walker said. “Plenty of credit to Alleman and their freshman Clair Hulke for coming back and not giving up, but our girls were determined to not have another mark in the loss column.”
Hulke finished with a team-high 17 points for the Pioneers (1-5, 0-4) with 15 coming in the fourth quarter alone.
While the freshman came up big for the Panthers in the end, it was because of Hunter's senior leadership that they held off the Pioneers.
“She has a calming presence on the team and helped settle them down,” Walker said. “Once they got their composure, they were able to get clean looks and knock down the shots we needed to get to win.”