By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
LIBERTY, Ill. -- Central-Southeastern junior forward Erin Flesner stood with her teammates on the court, surrounded by the Central student section, as they raised the Class 2A Liberty Regional plaque in front of a separate Southeastern cheering section decked out in blue and yellow.
It was a surreal ending for the Lady Panthers, who won their first regional title since 2008 by completing a revenge tour. Third-seeded C-SE beat Pittsfield 35-17 on Thursday night for the title, less than two weeks after losing to the Lady Saukees 35-26 on Jan. 28 in Camp Point.
In the semifinals, the Lady Panthers (14-14) beat second-seeded Liberty-Payson, a team they lost to by 53-30 earlier in the season.
"It was indescribable. It's one of the greatest feelings I could ever feel," said Flesner, who finished with eight points and six rebounds. "(The loss to Pittsfield provided) a lot of motivation. Last year, Pittsfield beat us twice in the regular season, and we beat them regionals. It's just so exciting because it has been a long time since we won."
Winning a title was a testament to the Lady Panthers' turnaround. C-SE started the season 4-9.
C-SE coach Matt Long said the Lady Panthers spent the last two weeks preparing for Liberty and Pittsfield.
"I think it motivated them, and we made sure it motivated them," said Long, whose team will play Pleasant Plains, a 45-43 winner over Riverton, in the semifinals of the North Greene Sectional. "Like we told them when we lost to Pittsfield late in the year, our goal was to win a regional, and it's still out there. Just because we got beat two weeks ago by them doesn't change our goals, and the kids bought into it."
Offensively, Pittsfield (17-14) never got on track. The Lady Saukees shot 14 percent (7 of 50) from the field, missed all 19 3-point they attempted and were held scoreless in the second quarter. Addi Lagemann gave Pittsfield its only lead, 2-0, when she scored the game's opening basket with 6 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first quarter. The Lady Panthers responded with a 7-2 run, capped by a jumper by Torie Conover that gave them the lead for good with 4:30 left in the first quarter. Conover finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
Pittsfield had numerous second-chance opportunities in the first half -- the Lady Saukees grabbed seven offensive rebounds -- but couldn't finish.
"If you look back at the tape, you're going to find us missing enough shots underneath the basket to win this basketball game," Pittsfield coach Jeff Shireman said. "We just didn't shoot the ball very well. We got good shots, they just didn't go in."
Senior Shea O'Brien, who averaged nearly 20 points per game for Pittsfield, was held to nine points on 3-of-19 shooting.
"We knew that Shea is a good shooter, so we had to have her one-on-one with Erin (Flesner)," said C-SE forward Madison Steinkamp, who finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds. "The rest of the defense did what we had to do."
The Lady Panthers relied on a soft man-to-man defense to halt the Lady Saukees. Flesner said that when O'Brien gave up the ball, C-SE wanted to make sure she didn't get it back.
"(The team did a) really good job face-guarding, sealing her up on the seams," Flesner said. "Double-teaming (her), we need a nice job on that."
The Lady Panthers led 13-8 after the first quarter and pushed the lead to 17-8 after holding the Lady Saukees scoreless in the second quarter. After O'Brien made a layup with 32 seconds left in the first quarter, Pittsfield didn't score another field goal until Cady Klatt's layup with 2:56 left in the third quarter to cut C-SE's lead to 23-12. Flesner scored the next two baskets to push C-SE's lead to 27-12 with 6:55 remaining.
The Lady Panthers kept the defensive intensity high until the end to seal the win.
"We wanted it," Steinkamp said. "We played bad the first time we played them, so we knew we had to come and kick their butts."