Pioneer fans have been looking forward to the season opener for the girls basketball team and for the debut of freshman guard Ashlynn Brooke, who has already received three Division-I offers before she’s played her first high school game. She picked up another offer this weekend from Ball State while being injured.

With Brooke sidelined while rehabbing a torn ACL injury, the Panthers were still impressive in an opening win over Tri-County on Saturday morning.

The Panthers defeated the Cavaliers 50-29 in Royal Center.

The Panthers had three players in double figures. Hailey Cripe led the way with 14 points, Olivia Brooke scored 13 and Madison Blickenstaff had 12.

Cripe, a three-sport standout, is filling in at point guard and knocked down three 3-pointers in her season debut.

Pioneer coach Jeff Brooke said Cripe moving from 2 guard to the point should only help her in her career.

“She’s only a sophomore and running the 1 for us, so that’s exciting to see because her decision making and her ballhandling skills are just going to get better,” he said.

Mackenzie Walker added seven points and Macee Baker chipped in four for Pioneer.

The Panthers set the tone early by jumping out to a 23-7 lead after one quarter. They led 32-18 at halftime and 43-24 after three.

“We got out to a nice tempo there in the first quarter. We really established the tempo for the game,” coach Brooke said. “The girls did a nice job pushing the ball up the floor and making great reads on defense. We had several steals in that first quarter and just set the tone for the rest of the game.”

The game was a rematch of last year’s sectional semifinal in which the Panthers won 56-42 en route to winning the sectional title. Pioneer lost a combined 24 points, seven assists and seven steals from that game with the graduation of Mikenna Landis and Tia Freshour, but were able to record an even more lopsided win on Saturday. Of course the Cavaliers are also dealing with losses to graduation.

Emma Michal and Maddie Musser each had eight points to lead the Cavs. Myah Alberts added seven.

“They did lose some players. The [Kinzi] Brooks girls was a really nice guard for them, they lost her, and they had some injuries as well. We didn’t play a JV game,” Brooke said. “They’re already battling the injury bug already. They may not have been 100 percent. But those girls that were on the floor gave all the effort they could possibly give. Today we were just a little quicker than they were, but I’m sure Missi [Tyler] will have them rip-roaring to go by sectional time.”

The Panthers are hoping to have Ashlynn Brooke back by sectional time as well.

“If it goes as planned and the physical therapist says, yeah, let’s go with it, I can see her possibly getting on the floor sometime in January,” coach Brooke said.

“I got 10 girls in and they have just been working their tails off in practice. They want to get better each and every day. They know eventually Ashlynn will come back. She wants to come back for them and they want to be ready for when she gets back, so it’s kind of a neat thing to see how this team is coming together and encouraging one another. I’m excited for the team I have right now on the floor. I saw some great things today that could just be exponential when Ashlynn does return to the ballcourt.”

Even if she’s not moving at 100 percent, Ashlynn’s shooting alone could help the Panthers in their goal of repeating as sectional champions and advancing further in the tournament.

“We’re post heavy right now and that hurts us because I have two or three guards who are sharing that load. But of course having another guard out there could spread out the defense and the range she has could definitely help our post play,” coach Brooke said.

The Panthers travel to Southwood (1-0) on Tuesday night, a team that Pioneer beat by 22 last year. Southwood opened with a 52-40 win over Blackford on Wednesday.

“They play really good pressure defense. Our guards will have to handle the ball,” coach Brooke said. “I think we have an advantage at the post position with [Olivia] Brooke and Blickenstaff, but their guards are really nice.”

ROCHESTER 45, CASTON 22

Caston fell to 0-2 with a loss at Rochester (1-1) Saturday night.

The Comets struggled with the Zebras’ length defensively and were only able to manage to put up 20 shots for the game.

Jordan Clingler led Caston with seven points. Sophie Jellison scored five, Maddison Smith had four and Kinzie Mollenkopf, Layne Oliver and Aubrey Dague chipped in two apiece.

The Comets are back in action on Tuesday when they host Peru.

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