SAEGERTOWN — For 34 seasons, the seat to the far left of the Saegertown girls basketball team’s bench had been occupied by Steve Scott.
But on Saturday for the Lady Panthers’ season opener against Eisenhower, that spot inside Steve Scott Gymnasium was filled by Amy Braymer. To her left was assistant coach Camryn Schmidt followed by a host of glossy-eyed young ladies — all about to embark on the same significant task.
“Individually we talked to the players and really the message was: We’re going to play Coach Scott’s game,” said Braymer, the Panthers’ interim head coach. “We’re Coach Scott’s team. We’re going to run hard through the plays and we’re going to look for each other. We’re not going to concentrate on individuals but the team. We’re going to get through this situation, and this game, and this season together.”
“It’s going to be an emotional season and our goal is just to honor our coach by giving it 100 percent.”
Braymer and the players were pretty confident following their 54-15 win over Eisenhower that they had done just that. They had made Steve Scott, who passed away on Dec. 18 from complications due to COVID-19, proud.
“It felt so good,” Saegertown senior guard Ava Jones said with a crack in her voice. “Being in this gym, it always feels like he’s with us. After the fact, looking at the score and knowing how we played as a team with what we have. We’re not tall. We’re not big … We know he would have been proud of us.”
Scott’s trademark was the 2-3 zone defense and the Lady Panthers’ execution of it caused its fair share of fits for opponents over the last three-plus decades. Eisenhower was another victim on Saturday.
The Lady Panthers’ defense forced the Knights into 22 turnovers in the first half with several of those miscues leading to easy baskets for Saegertown at the opposite end of the floor.
But something Scott stressed numerous times in postgame interviews over the last few years was getting more players to step up and be an offensive threat. It was that unselfishness on offense against the Knights that set the Panthers apart.
Saegertown had eight players score, with all five starters and its first player off the bench scoring at least six. Jones led the Panthers with 11 points. Averie Braymer added 10 points followed by Dixie Kindervater and Maggie Braymer with eight each, Hailee Gregor with seven and Sydnie Smith with six.
“That’s been our goal,” coach Braymer said. “That’s what we talk about. We’re not looking for individuals doing good. Some days are going to be harder for others and we need people to step up. Coach always said if you can have a few people scoring rather than one … That’s been our message since day 1 when we met after his passing all the way through and it’s what we are going to keep trying to do.”
The Lady Panthers didn’t need a whole lot of encouragement to get going against the Knights. With 4:17 left in the first quarter, the Panthers led 8-0. Eisenhower got on the board with 3:46 left in the first on a pair of free throws by Faith Donnell.
The Knights were held to just one field goal the rest of the way as Saegertown closed out the first with a 19-4 advantage.
The Panthers kept the pedal down in the second, outscoring the Knights 20-3 for a 39-7 lead at halftime.
“The plan was just to go out and play the game as Coach (Scott) taught us to play the game,” Jones added. “Obviously we want to win; we want to do that. But at the same time it’s playing as he taught us to play and execution. He taught us all the plays we know. We’re just trying to do everything in our power to show what he taught us this season.”
The Panthers’ offense slowed a little in the second half. But the defensive effort remained solid as they held Ike scoreless in the third. Eisenhower went a total of 12 minutes and one second without scoring from second quarter into the fourth. That drought ended on a basket by Kaitlin Sleeman with 7:28 left in the contest.
The Knights did score eight points in the fourth, but the damage had already been done.
“Coming back after everything has been tough,” Jones said. “But we’ve gotten through it together and I think that is all you can ask for.”