MONROE CITY, Mo. -- The Monroe City girls basketball team seems to have figured out how to play fast and hard.
The Panthers still need to figure out how to play with a big lead.
Monroe City led by 20 points late in the third quarter but let the lead shrink to eight points before winning 71-59 in the semifinals of the 93rd Monroe City Tournament on Wednesday night. It will play either Palmyra or South Shelby for the championship at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
The hosts led 36-25 at halftime, then appeared to have the game in control after Emilie Okenfuss made a 3-pointer with about two minutes left in the third quarter to make the score 53-33.
Paris' Allison Moore, who had eight points in the first quarter, already had fouled out, and teammate Drew Lockhart had four fouls and was on the bench.
Rather than folding, the Coyotes (2-3) made it competitive.
Delaney Miller and Grace Peak made 3-pointers to get Paris within 55-41 when the fourth quarter started, and Lockhart made two free throws with 3:59 to play to trim the score to 61-50.
"It's hard to transition from warp speed to, ‘Hey, we have a lead. Let's slow this thing down,'" Panthers coach Cody Leonard said. "I don't usually call a ton of timeouts, but tonight when I did, that's the only thing we discussed."
Delanie Okenfuss made a driving basket, then made one of two free throws to push the lead back to 14, but Monroe City turned the ball over six times in the final eight minutes. Paris cut the lead to nine points on three occasions late in the fourth quarter and once had it down to 67-59, but the Panthers' Lauren Youngblood made four free throws in the final minute.
Delanie Okenfuss, who had 19 points, also made three 3-pointers in the first half to help Monroe City take command.
"That's what D does. She has one speed, and she's going to play really stinkin' hard," Leonard said. "You don't have to coach that. She'll run through a wall for us. Sometimes, she literally will run through a wall and get in foul trouble."
Junior Jada Summers had 23 points and 10 rebounds despite going up against 6-foot-5 sophomore Tori Hamilton.
"I'm so used to just going up and using my power," Summers said. "I have to learn how to fake and use some different moves, and sometimes I just had to go up strong and go up at the right time."
Hamilton came off the bench to score 16 points for Paris (3-2). However, when the Coyotes made their comeback, Hamilton only touched the ball once in the fourth quarter, yet she remained a factor on the defensive end.
"We attacked her better than we did last week (when Monroe City won 64-60)," Leonard said. "We didn't shy away from contact. When you're a bunch of midgets like us, you've got to figure out how to score against size like that."
Monroe City made 23 of 33 free throws in the game, while Paris made just 5 of 16.
Monroe City 71, Paris 59
Peak 2-7 1-2 7, Miller 2-10 0-0 6, Fox 2-9 0-2 4, Moore 4-10 0-0 8, Lockhart 5-10 4-11 14, Hamilton 8-11 0-1 16, Skinner 1-2 0-0 2, Francis 1-1 0-0 2, Cupp 0-0 0-0 0, Long 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-61 5-16 59.
MONROE CITY (4-0)
D. Okenfuss 6-9 4-6 19, E. Okenfuss 2-7 2-2 7, Summers 8-12 7-8 23, Youngblood 2-6 4-4 8, Hays 3-9 6-11 12, Quinn 0-1 0-0 0, Dyer 1-4 0-2 2, St. Clair 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-48 23-33 71.
Paris 14 11 16 18--59
Monroe City 19 17 19 16--71
3-point field goals--Monroe City 4-8 (D. Okenfuss 3-4, E. Okenfuss 1-2, Hays 0-1, Dyer 0-1), Paris 4-18 (Peak 2-7, Miller 2-7, Fox 0-1, Moore 0-1, Lockhart 0-1, Long 0-1). Rebounds--Paris 39 (Fox, Lockhart 8), Monroe City 32 (Summers 10). Turnovers--Paris 17, Monroe City 13. Fouls--Paris 22, Monroe City 16. Fouled out--Lockhart, Moore. Officials--Larry Brooks, Bill Treaster.