- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Western’s players couldn’t wait to get to the podium. But to get there, they had to be asked to leave center court to make room for the stagehands to set up the makeshift ceremony stand.

The players and their fans were rejoicing after the Panthers pulled off a 38-35 victory over Evansville Mater Dei Saturday in the Class 3A girls state basketball championship in Terre Haute. When the final buzzer sounded, Western’s fans erupted. They were celebrating their first-ever state championship in girls basketball.

And once they got their medals, the Western squad practically raced to be the first one to climb the ladder to cut down the net. They were in such a hurry, a second ladder was set up at the opposite basket so both nets could get down and Western’s excitement could be satisfied.

“What a great thing to be a part of,” Western coach Chris Keisling said, grinning ear to ear. “We beat an awesome opponent and it couldn’t feel better.”

It was a game filled with drama, statistical anomalies, and surprises. Averaging 22.7 points per game and headed to play at Indiana University, Mater Dei senior Maura Muensterman was held to 12 points. Western senior forward Jessica Givens, normally a 30 percent 3-point shooter, went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.

So how exactly did Western prevent Mater Dei from claiming a third straight state title?

They used their best defensive performance of the season to keep the 17th-best scoring team in the state in check. Mater Dei, averaging 64.2 points per game, was held to its season low. The Wildcats’ previous low was 50 points in a Jan. 4 contest against Vincennes-Rivet.

It was the 2-3 zone that did Mater Dei in.

“We kept trying to find video where they had faced it,” Keisling said. “We couldn’t find the video. By looking at the lack of 2-3 they’d played against, it looked like we could be effective because they hadn’t seen it. In my opinion, we play the best 2-3 in the state.”

The Panthers also used a conservative offensive game plan to outlast Mater Dei in the end. But it wasn’t pretty. Western went nearly a full quarter without scoring during a 7-minute stretch that bridged the second and third quarters. They were outscored 9-4 in the second quarter.

In the end, it was the Western defense that stole the show. The Panthers’ dug deep when their offense struggled and limited Mater Dei (26-2) to 24 percent shooting from the field and a season-low 35 points.

Despite coming up short, Mater Dei coach Steve Goans was proud of his team.

“We did a fantastic job of putting ourselves in a position to have a shot at (a third straight) state championship,” Goans said. “We took it one game at a time and I thought we were prepared to do it.”

With tears in her eyes and her final prep game in the books, Muensterman said going for a 3-peat to end her high school career was a unique experience.

“I think the pressure was there, but to be in this situation three times is something every Indiana high school basketball player wants,” Muensterman said. “It was great to end my career here.”

With the win, Western (23-3) claimed its second victory over a top-10 opponent during its tournament run. The Panthers also held Muensterman, the state’s all-time leader in assists, to two assists in this contest.

Carley O’Neal led Western’s scorers with 12 points. Givens scored all nine of her points for Western in the first half. Muensterman’s 12 points for Mater Dei was a team-high.

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