CANTON — Defense led to offense for Washington and that led to a regional title.

The Panthers held down Richwoods in claiming a 54-30 victory at the Class 3A Canton Regional on Friday night. Washington (24-4), advances to face host Galesburg (30-3) at 6 p.m. Monday in the sectional semifinals after taking home a regional plaque for the second time in three seasons.

“We knew coming into tonight that we were going to have our hands full,” Washington coach Maggie Mose said. “We knew it was going to be battle.

“I think Richwoods is a great team, but I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. I was just really proud of our effort and the way we executed.”

It took just 2:47 for the Panthers, who beat Richwoods 64-30 on Feb. 2,to go up 8-0 at Alice Ingersoll Gymnasium. Tia Sherman’s baseline jumper followed by back-to-back 3-pointers from Lauren Ely forced Richwoods coach Todd Hursey to call a 30-second timeout.

Hursey says he stressed to his team that getting a lead early was critical.

“We talked about (getting a lead),” he said. “We just didn’t get it.

“We just need to grow with our basketball IQ and our savvy on the court. What they did defensively to us forces us to shoot this poorly (33.3 percent — 14-of-42).”

Ely drained her first triple from the left corner. The junior guard’s second trey came 61 seconds later from the right wing off an assist from Josie Morgan (11 points on 4-for-4 shooting).

From there, Washington finished the quarter on an 11-4 spurt. Morgan hit a jumper and Sherman made two free throws, followed by another Ely 3.

“Lauren has been shooting the ball great,” Mose said, “and I was really proud of the way she started the game. It’s huge for us.”

Hannah Heinz’s layup off a steal and assist from Madi McCoy (seven points, seven rebounds), along with a short jumper by Sierra Sonnemaker made it 19-4 after the opening eight minutes.

Richwoods (19-13), which got outrebounded 26-16, made a nine-point run and cut it to 25-17 only 22 seconds into the third quarter. Olivia Neff started the rally with a 3-pointer and Kourtney Crane capped the spurt with a drive to the hoop.

But the Panthers, who went 18-for-33 (54.5 percent) from the field, squashed any hope of a comeback with a 13-6 push for a 38-23 advantage heading into the final quarter.

“When we make stops, it gives us that boost that we need,” Heinz said. “Our confidence is super, super high right now, but it’s not so high that we come in thinking a game is ours already.

“We are confident. Not cocky.”

Sherman scored a game-high 15 points, hitting 7 of 7 free throws. Heinz finished with 10 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.

Tianna Johnson scored a team-high 10 points for Richwoods. Crane added eight points.

Adam Duvall can be reachedat 686-3207 or aduvall@pjstar.com.Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.