By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
WHITE HALL, Ill. -- The Central-Southeastern girls basketball team felt Thursday night the way many of its opponents did during the second half of the season.
The Lady Panthers simply couldn't get any offense going.
Litchfield held C-SE to only two field goals and eight points in the second half to pull away for a 41-25 victory in the Class 2A North Greene Sectional championship game.
"(Litchfield) was making us run our offense to the left side and we're not used to that," C-SE coach Matt Long said. "We got our heads down on offense, and it affected the way we played on the defensive end."
The Purple Panthers (25-6) advance to the super-sectional and will play Champaign St. Thomas More at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the University of Illinois-Springfield. The Lady Panthers finish with a 15-15 record.
Less than a month ago, the idea that C-SE would play for a sectional title -- its first since 2007 -- was unthinkable. The Lady Panthers were 4-12 in early January and the No. 3 seed in the Liberty Regional.
"The end of our season was day and night compared to the first half of it," Lady Panthers sophomore Dakota Limkemann said. "We finally got things on the same page. But even after we started playing better, no one expected this.
"Tonight, they were long and a lot more athletic than we were. They outplayed us."
After spotting Litchfield the game's first seven points during the opening 63 seconds, C-SE didn't fold. The Lady Panthers cut the lead to 15-13 when Torie Conover scored off a pass from Limkemann with 6 minutes, 16 seconds left in the first half.
That was as close as C-SE got. Litchfield took a 26-17 lead when Ally Smith scored in the final seconds of the first half. The Purple Panthers extended their lead to 33-18 after Taylor Niehaus drained a 3-pointer from the left wing with 3:09 left in the third quarter.
The Lady Panthers didn't have any more runs left in them.
"Most big games have three runs," Long said. "Litchfield had their big run to open the game, and we matched it. Then they had one late in the half and another one in the second half. I wanted a second-half run, but we never got it. We got awfully tired defending their quickness."
C-SE had trouble scoring inside against a tall Litchfield team.
"We knew a lot of their baskets come from inside 6 feet," Litchfield coach Rob Corso said. "(C-SE) runs a lot of back cuts and we wanted to take those away. Everyone helped out defensively in the second half and did a great job communicating."
Long was excited to watch his team improve as much as it did during the final month of the season.
"Never have I had a team improve so much in just three weeks," Long said. "The players finally realized that at the end of games, they had a lot left in their tanks they weren't using. Hopefully they learned something from that. I know I learned something from them."