VANDALIA — Through three quarters, Scott McElravy’s Fairfield Mules had forced 19 turnovers and held the Pana Panthers to 18 points. They went on to an easy 70-33 trouncing of the upstart Panthers, ending Pana’s surprising run to the sectional.
The Mules hit nine three-pointers, and forced 23 turnovers total, despite sitting their starters for the entire fourth quarter.
“That is the best our defense has been in a while. We knew we were a little better athletically, but we knew they could really shoot. They have been scoring over 70 points a game in their last six games. Multiple guys can shoot the three for them,” McElravy said.
Pana finished with just two three-pointers in the game against a frenzied Mule defense, and only hit one after the first 90 seconds, when they took an early 5-2 lead. The Mules answered with 18 straight points to close out the first quarter up 20-5. They led 35-11 at halftime and 56-18 through three. Their largest lead, 42, came at 67-25 in the fourth before the benches were emptied.
The defense led to plenty of runouts, and the scoring was balanced for the Mules, who put four players in double figures scoring, despite going just 3-of-11 on free throws, the one down note of the night for the Mules.
Sophomore guard Landon Zurliene hit four threes in the second half and led the Mules with 16 points, while senior point guard Jayzale O’Neal netted 14 points. Kane Hixenbaugh and Brian Estes each added 10 points.
Fairfield improved to 32-2, extending their school record for wins. They return to a sectional championship for the first time in more than two decades. The Panthers had their six-game winning streak snapped and finish with a 17-18 record.
The Mules will face the winner of tonight’s semifinal between Mount Carmel and Teutopolis. The championship game is set for 7 p.m. Friday.