By BRAD MOSHER
The (La Grande) Observer
Imbler needed a strong second-half rally to avoid a first-round upset to the Lady Leopards on Thursday and win the first district tournament game, 34-31.
The win moved the Lady Panthers into a showdown with the Old Oregon League champion Powder Valley squad tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Baker High School gymnasium.
The Cove Leopards took a 14-8 first-quarter lead.
In the second quarter, the Lady Panthers started to rally, getting the next three points to cut the lead to 14-11 with four minutes left.
Molly DelCurto came up with her second three-pointer of the half to give the Leopards a six-point lead (17-11). Emma Bowers hit the first of two free throws with 53 seconds left, cutting the lead to 17-12.
DelCurto hit a short jumper with 15 seconds left in the half to give the Leopards a 19-12 advantage.
The Leopards had hit 50 percent of their shots in the first half (eight of 16) while Imbler was ice cold, hitting just three of 21 shots (14 percent).
Hailey Hulse led the Leopards early in the game with seven points before she picked up her third foul with 6:42 left in the second quarter.
Imbler started its comeback early with Kelcie Wiley hitting a quick layup after taking the inbounds pass, cutting the lead 19-14.
Madison Courtney hit a basket to bring the Cove lead up to 21-14, but it was almost all Imbler scoring for the next five minutes. The Panthers made a 12-2 run with Katie Olson giving Imbler the lead (24-23) with 3:52 left in the period.
Imbler got baskets from Stephanie McGuilvray and Emma Bower to build a 28-23 lead before Cove's Hannah Hulse scored with 1:35 left.
DelCurto hit a jumper with 16 seconds left in the period, cutting Imbler's lead to 28-27 at the end of the period.
Both teams exchanged baskets early in the final period with Wiley's shot with 5:11 left giving Imbler a 33-30 lead. That would be the last basket for either team until Kayla Johnson hit a free throw with six seconds left.
Olson hit a free throw with two seconds left that bounced around the rim three times before falling in.
For Imbler coach Barry Bowers, the game was too close for comfort andndash; at least sitting on the bench. And it started the wrong way andndash; with Cove taking a 14-8 lead.
"In the first half, we came out hot and ready to go," Cove coach Brenden May said. "In the third quarter, Imbler's experience showed andndash; and so did our inexperience."
But Bowers said the big reason the scoring slowed in the second half was because of the strong defensive play. "It was just one shot, then one shot by both teams." He also praised the play of McGuilvray. "I thought Stephanie did a great job for us. She's been playing quite a lot and she is a great athlete."
Wiley finished as the game's top scorer, leading Imbler with 10 points. McGuilvray added seven and Olson finished with five points.
Imbler got four points each from Bowers and Danika McIntosh, with Ally Fullerton and Jacey Teeter each adding two.
The Leopards were led by DelCurto's eight points and Hailey Hulse's seven. Mikayla Murchison finished with six and Hannah Hulse added five points. Both Courtney and Renee Mills had two points in the Leopards' final game of the season.
Cove outrebounded Imbler by a 38-30 margin, led by Murchison's nine, but only nine of the team's total came on the offensive boards.