Washington set up a showcase postseason game with the Morton girls basketball team.

After the Potters throttled Central in the first Class 3A Metamora Regional semifinal Feb. 18, the Lady Panthers rallied for a 45-33 win over East Peoria.

Washington set up a showcase postseason game with the Morton girls basketball team.

After the Potters throttled Central in the first Class 3A Metamora Regional semifinal Feb. 18, the Lady Panthers rallied for a 45-33 win over East Peoria.

No. 2 seed Washington trailed 10-3 after one quarter and 21-15 at halftime, but outscored the Raiders 30-12 in the second half.

Jess Learned had a game-high 18 points, including supplying two-thirds of the Lady Panthers’ scoring in the opening half.

Hayley Reneau added eight points, all after intermission, and Tia Sherman also netted eight for Washington.

Kylie Giebelhausen led East Peoria (19-9) with 12 points.

The third-seeded Raiders made four 3-pointers in the first half as they looked to knock off their second state-ranked team in a row after defeating Morton four days earlier.

The Lady Panthers went 4-0 this winter against East Peoria, which set a program record for wins in a season.

Washington was elevated from sixth to No. 5 in the final Associated Press 3A state poll.

WCHS 62, Morton 51
The Lady Panthers are a regional champion for the first time in eight years.

Washington (24-3) won its first postseason crown since head coach Maggie Mose’s senior season after toppling seventh-ranked and top-seeded Morton Thursday.

“I feel so proud of the girls. I’m so happy for them. That makes it so fun,” said Mose.

Learned paced the Lady Panthers with 17 points and six rebounds.

Reneau had 14 points for Washington, Maddie Lee 11 and Tia Sherman 10.

After Morton and the Lady Panthers each won on the road in this year’s Mid-Illini Conference series, the third meeting on a neutral floor had a sectional final atmosphere.

“These are the games that are so fun to play,” said Heinz, who had all nine of her points in the second half. “I love the competition so much. I’m glad we turned out with the ‘W.’”

Washington first ended the Potters’ three-year streak of league championships. Now, it kept Morton (26-5) out of the sectional field for just the second time in 10 seasons.

Two Reneau 3-point bombs staked the Lady Panthers to a quick 6-2 lead.

Sherman followed with a pair of baskets and a Learned baseline drive created a 12-4 margin after one quarter.

By the time Reneau made all three free throws after getting fouled beyond the arc and Learned hit a shot, it was a 12-point Washington cushion in the second period.

Just as importantly, the Lady Panthers held the Potters’ potent offense to only five points in the first 10 minutes, 22 seconds.

Reneau’s third trey of the first half forged the largest lead of the game for Washington at 25-12 with 2:58 left.

It was still 27-14 with less than two minutes to go until intermission when Morton came to life.

The Potters ran off 10 consecutive points — five each from Chandler Ryan and Emma Heisler — to cut its deficit to one possession at the break.

After Kait Byrne scored for Morton on two different offensive trips to open the third quarter, the game was tied.

The Lady Panthers responded decisively with an 8-0 spurt. Learned sank a 3 before five straight points by Heinz, who made all four of her shots over the final 16 minutes.

“The thing that has been our strength all year long is our balance and it was again tonight,” Mose said.  
The Potters trimmed the gap to four points, but Lee had a pair of hoops to end the third with Washington in front, 39-31.

Ryan, who compiled a game-best 28 points, got white hot in the fourth period, connecting on six straight shots at one point.

But the Lady Panthers’ lead never shrank below three points, thanks to some timely plays.

“We knew a team like Morton would make a run at us – we expected that,” Mose said. “We kept stressing to withstand any run and I thought we did that.”

Reneau had a steal and lay-up with 4:56 remaining as part of a 7-0 spree that reestablished a double-digit advantage.

“We worked hard to finally get back into our groove in the second half,” said Reneau.

Learned made both free throws with less than two minutes on the clock after Ryan’s fifth 3 in 3:51 sliced the Morton deficit to 50-46.

Eight seconds after the Potters crawled within four points again, Lee provided a bucket at 1:42 while getting fouled.

Reneau blocked a Ryan long-distance attempt with the game still hanging in the balance, and the Potters did not score the rest of the way.

Since beating Morton in the 2006 AA Richwoods Sectional semifinals, Washington was 0-2 against the Potters in postseason matchups until this breakthrough.

Sectional: Washington eliminated Geneseo Monday in a 45-34 final in the Chillicothe Sectional semifinals.

Notre Dame (16-14) edged Mendota, 39-37, in the other Monday semifinal.

The Lady Panthers and Irish meet at 7 p.m. Thursday for the championship. Washington beat ND, 42-40, in a Jan. 16 Team Works Invitational game in Torry Gymnasium.

The Lady Panthers have not won a sectional title since 1977, which was the inaugural season of the Illinois High School Association state series in girls basketball.

The Chillicothe Sectional winner advances to Monday’s Romeoville Super-sectional at Lewis University to face the New Lenox Sectional champion. Game time is 7 p.m.