Pond Creek-Hunter senior Jade Jones’s confidence grew with each shot Friday morning.
As her confidence climbed, so did the Panthers.
Jones scored 30 points and also became a key distributor late to lift No. 3 Pond Creek-Hunter past No. 1 Cheyenne/Reydon 48-35 in the Class A semifinals at State Fair Arena.
“I was feeling it,” Jones said. “They were playing off me, so I couldn’t get to the rim. They were giving me my jump shot and I was knocking it down.”
Pond Creek-Hunter (27-1) advances to its first championship game in school history and will play the winner of Frontier and Seiling at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Panthers are enjoying the moment, too. They are also embracing the underdog role.
“Last year with (Jones) being hurt, we got here and our heads were kinda down,” Pond Creek-Hunter coach Tasha Diesselhorst said. “We were happy to be here. This year was a whole different mindset. Get here and let’s take care of business because nobody really expects us to do anything.”
They are doing something, though, and Jones has been a huge reason.
She’s now scored 50 points in two games. Friday was her most impressive performance, too.
Jones opened the game by scoring 20 of the Panthers’ first 24 points. Then in the fourth quarter she had two big assists and was 8 of 8 from the free-throw line to help ice the game.
“When people try to take her away and pressure her as a ballhandler, she finds the open girl,” Diesselhorst said. “It was huge. When you have somebody like that can handle the ball and she welcomes pressure, it makes my job a whole lot easier.”
Cheyenne/Reydon (26-5) fell behind in the second quarter after leading most of the first. The Bears were able to tie the game at 24-all with 2:21 remaining in the third, but Pond Creek-Hunter caught fire behind Jones and pulled away.
Junior Kate Sander had eight points for the Bears, who fell one game shy of returning to the state championship game for a second straight season.
Instead, Pond Creek-Hunter gets a chance to win its first gold ball and surprise some people.
“We’re enjoying it,” Jones said. “No one expects us to win, so we don’t have any pressure on us so we’re just going out there and having fun.
“There’s no reason to even be nervous going into a game. We just go out there and have fun.”