Panthers top Lady Dees to clinch outright SCC title

Knoxville sophomore Charlee Heffron (4) kicks a pass to the corner while being defended by Albia junior Halle Hindman (22) on Tuesday during South Central Conference girls basketball action in Albia.

ALBIA — There was plenty to celebrate in the locker room of the Knoxville girls basketball team on Tuesday night.

For the third straight year, the Panthers clinched the South Central Conference championship winning at Albia 60-33. Head coach Jim Uitermarkt, however, wasn’t quite ready to celebrate fully.

“We had a goal of winning the conference championship, but it would be incredibly special to be undefeated conference champions,” Uitermarkt said. “We’re not going to celebrate until we get that last conference game at Davis County.

“I get it. I know where we’re sitting having already clinched the conference title, but I know the girls will be disappointed if we don’t get that last one on Thursday.”

Katie Keitges and Maggie Wilkins, the SCC’s co-leading scorers at 23.4 points a game, paced the Panthers once again on Tuesday. Keitges and Wilkins each had 12 points in the first half, helping Knoxville open a 34-15 halftime lead, before Keitges added 10 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 22 while also grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out six assists.

Tara Uitermarkt kicked off a quick second half start for Knoxville, stealing the ball from Halle Hindman at midcourt on the opening possession before going in for a 3-point play. Knoxville would score nine points in less than two minutes, building a 28-point lead on a night where the Panthers (17-1, 11-1 SCC) were not at their best physically.

“We’ve had a lot of kids sick. We had four girls with influenza B. This was the first time for them stepping back on the court since getting sick,” Jim Uitermarkt said. “Tara’s missed the last two games. This was her first game back. Emma Dunkin probably played with it on Friday, as we later found out. She was sick all weekend and wasn’t at practice on Monday, so that’s two starters that have been out. We had to limit their minutes.”

While Uitermarkt described Tuesday’s win as his team’s “worst offensive performance of the season,” Albia (2-14, 0-12 SCC) found something to build on in the final quarter of conference play. Sophie Waber kicked off an 11-0 run for the Lady Dees in the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer before adding a steal and a high post jumper as Albia outscored Knoxville 13-8 in the final eight minutes, an impressive turnaround after losing to the Panthers last Thursday 79-35.

“We did the little things right. We protected the ball better, we sat down on defense and gained confidence,” Albia head girls basketball coach Katy Dykes said. “We did not start out the season shooting the ball very well. The girls are getting the reps they need to be better shooter and work hard to get second-chance opportunities.

“I’m proud of the effort they gave. Holding Knoxville to 60 points is actually a pretty big deal. Not many teams have been able to do that. All of these things are little victories for us.”

Jenny Kelley led Albia with eight points, hitting four of six shots from the field. Waber added seven. Seniors Abigail Martin and Lauren Kaldenberg also contribued with four points for Kaldenberg and 12 combined rebounds from the duo honored between games on Senior Night.

“I’m glad we could honor those seniors and keep it respectable on the court,” Dykes said. “Knoxville is good enough to crush a lot of good teams. We were able to make some comebacks and make it a little closer. We’re making the good changes we need to at the end of the season.”

Albia will face Cardinal on Friday night in a battle of young area teams. Knoxville will look to finish 12-0 in the SCC with a win Thursday in Bloomfield against Davis County.

Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

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