PONTIAC — Shots weren't falling in the first half of the Pontiac Class 3A Regional for the Central Catholic High School girls basketball team Thursday, yet neither were the Saints' spirits.
"We were staying confident the shots were going in the next half," Central Catholic senior Lauren Shanks said.
Shanks had a lot to do with that coming true, scoring 23 second-half points as the Saints rallied for a 56-50 victory over Washington to claim the school's first 3A regional championship.
"We got in transition, and I think our press really wore them down in the end," said Central Catholic coach Debbie Coffman. "The kids played hard. It was fun to watch."
The 10th-ranked Saints (26-6) advance to the IVC Sectional where they will meet No. 1 Peoria Richwoods in a 6 p.m. semifinal on Tuesday in Chillicothe.
Central Catholic coaxed in just 4 of its first 22 shots and finished the first half at 8 of 31 (26 percent). Yet the Saints hounded the Panthers, who bowed out at 24-7, into 14 first-half turnovers to minimize the damage to a 25-19 deficit entering the break.
"We talked about it at halftime we had to get other kids involved," Coffman said. "Bailey (Coffman) and Lauren had all our points the first half. Other kids stepped up and played very hard."
Washington took a 36-33 edge into the final quarter after a Kayle Baker 3-pointer with four seconds left in the period. The Saints responded with baskets from Bailey Coffman and Lillie Foley to start the fourth quarter to forge ahead 37-36.
Shanks snapped a 42-all tie on a 3-pointer with 2:07 to play and the Saints would not surrender the lead.
"We were passing it around well and sharing the ball," said Shanks. "We really pushed our defense the second half. That really helped us out a lot."
Shanks connected on 9 of 10 fourth-quarter free throws and finished with 33 points. Foley helped out with five fourth-quarter points.
"Lauren played very hard and was very aggressive," Coach Coffman said.
Bailey Coffman contributed 15 points and a team-high seven rebounds. The Saints committed 18 turnovers, 10 fewer than Washington's 28.
"We did a really good job the first half pushing the ball and handling the press," said Panthers coach Kim Barth. "They made some adjustments at halftime, and we didn't adjust as quickly as we needed to."
Washington outrebounded Central Catholic, 46-31, behind 11 boards each from Sierra Sonnemaker and Lily Harlan. Sonnemaker topped the Panthers with 20 points and Harlan added 12.
Washington was haunted by nine missed free throws in as many attempts.
"I don't know where that came from," Barth said. "You're obviously not going to win a game if you can't make free throws."