By Thomas Becker
After a stellar playoff run, Reese Baxendale continued where she left off, pouring in a game-high 28 points in a winning effort over the Memorial Sea-Hawks 79-75.
The reigning Rookie of the Year couldn't be contained and was a nightmare for Memorial to defend, as she attacked the basket at will and drilled perimeter shots with efficiency.
"I couldn't have done it without my teammates. They found open shots for me," said the Subway Player of the Game. "Overall, it was a great game for the girls."
Rookie head coach Matt Gamblin had high praise for his young shooting guard after her strong performance.
"She's a gamer and she's competitive," he said. "The higher the stakes the more she raises her game."
A combination of rust and opening day jitters hampered UPEI early as baskets were hard to come by. After Baxendale rang in the new season with a triple, Memorial's Brooklyn Wright and Sydney Ezekiel combined for nine first-quarter points, giving their team a five-point edge midway through the frame. Led by Baxendale and Yepez, who combined for 13 first-quarter points, the Panthers were able to tie it at 17 all heading into the second.
With a balanced attack, the Sea-Hawks opened up an eight-point lead minutes into the frame. Not willing to give in, the tenacious Panthers finally settled in and caught fire.
After a layup by Del Santo, UPEI drilled four consecutive triples with Jane McLaughlin making three of them, as the home team stormed ahead 35-29 and took a 41-37 lead at halftime. McLaughlin scored nine of her 16 points in just six minutes of action, while Baxendale had 13. Ezekiel closed out the half with 11 of her team-high 19.
Gamblin said McLaughlin's string of threes was pivotal in turning the tides back in their favour.
"It's easy to overlook when you look at the drama of the second half, but we had nothing going for us offensively… Jane stepped in and hit some threes as a veteran and really helped break the seal"
Coming out of the half, the Panthers made a conscious effort to get the ball inside for easy baskets and it worked. Carolina Del Santo up until that point was just 1of-8 from the field, but came back strong with two layups, which was broken up by a McLaughlin lay-in, as the Panthers took command 49-39.
The Sea-Hawks countered with a furious 17-5 run, led by their star Wright, who had six of her 14 points in the spurt to put her team ahead 53-52. After three, the road team led 58-57.
After Jenna Mae Ellsworth pushed the Panthers ahead with a drive to the basket three and a half minutes into the fourth, they wouldn't look back. A Baxendale hoop and harm, followed by another Del Santo layup pushed their lead 70-60 with under five minutes to go. The Sea-Hawks made things a bit uncomfortable in the final minute, but ultimately came up short 79-75.
"Shots weren't dropping early, but the team settled in and I thought we played really well," Baxendale said.
Ellsworth finished with 16 points, while Del Santo continued to demonstrate her defensive prowess with 10 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks.
Memorial's Sydney Stewart and Jane Baird also finished in double figures with 13 and 12, respectively.
The Panthers look to go 2-0 as their weekend showdown with the Sea-Hawks continues on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m.
Phot Credit: Janessa Hogan