Centralia girls capture first district title since 1992

By Theo Tate, Montgomery Standard
Posted 2/26/24

A year ago, Morgan Ross watched her Centralia girls basketball team suffer a heartbreaking loss to Moberly in the Class 4 District 8 championship game from the bench with a torn ACL.

On Feb. 23, …

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Centralia girls capture first district title since 1992


A year ago, Morgan Ross watched her Centralia girls basketball team suffer a heartbreaking loss to Moberly in the Class 4 District 8 championship game from the bench with a torn ACL.

On Feb. 23, the Centralia senior guard celebrated with a district championship trophy in her hand.

Ross and the Panthers continued their outstanding season by knocking off the Montgomery County Wildcats 47-39 in front of a large crowd in the Class 3 District 7 finals at North Callaway High School. It was Centralia’s first district crown since 1992.

“I’m so glad I got to do it with these girls,” Ross said. “It means everything.”

The Panthers improved to 23-4 with the victory over Montgomery County, which won the district title in each of the last two years, and advanced to the sectional round against California. The week before, Centralia won the Clarence Cannon Conference title with a 7-0 record, its first league championship since 1978.

“This season has been phenomenal,” Ross said. “We won a conference championship. Now, we won this. I think we’re just going to keep on going, progressing and getting better. It’s been incredible what we have been able to do.”

The Panthers also helped coach Megan Brinkmann celebrate her fifth district championship as a coach. She also coached Eugene to three district crowns from 2019-2021 and guided Bowling Green to a district title in 2018.

“Coach Brinkmann has turned this program around,” Ross said. “We have phenomenal athletes, but our coaching staff is also incredible. They helped us out so much on offense and defense. They’re always scouting and watching film. They’re the whole package for us. They do so much and they know so much about the game and I’m so happy to be playing under them.”

Since Brinkmann took over the Centralia program last winter, the Panthers have won 47 games.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Brinkmann said. “At times, I talk about how stressful it is. There is so much time and effort put into it, but I love those girls. I’ll do anything for them. Seeing them being successful makes me so happy. That’s my joy. They worked so hard and I want to give them everything I have. I’m so happy to be coaching. I’m so happy to be here.”

Centralia and Montgomery County won their semifinal games on Feb. 21, setting up a contest between two top-10 teams in the state in the district finals. The Wildcats were ranked third, while the Panthers were the eighth-ranked team. They also played each other for the first time since 2009.

Brinkmann said she knew things weren’t going to be easy for her team in district play once she found out the Wildcats drew the top seed in the six-team tournament.

“When I saw Montgomery there, I was like, ‘Man, they’re the ones to beat.’ We were lucky enough to get there,” said Brinkmann, whose team was seeded second. “They’ve been back-to-back champs in this district, so they know what it takes to win and they know what it takes to compete. (Montgomery County coach) Joe Basinger and I call each other all year. Joe is a fantastic coach. We’re good friends. We usually share film and stuff. But this year, I was like, ‘Eh, I don’t know how much we would share.’”

Last winter, the Panthers lost 43-41 to Moberly in the district title game, which was played at Centralia.

 “We had such a heartbreaking loss last year to Moberly in the district championship,” Brinkmann said. “We didn’t want to have that feeling again.”

Against Montgomery County, the Panthers stormed to an 8-0 lead after the first six minutes of the game and never trailed the rest of the way. They led by as many as 14 in the third quarter.

“We knew that Montgomery has a strong team that likes to get out fast, so we were ready to come out and play defense,” Ross said. “I think we held them really well and let them do what they wanted to. I think that ultimately what kind of gave us the momentum for the rest of the game.”

Sophomore Braylin Brunkhurst scored 13 points, senior Shelby Lewis had 11 points, freshman Ryenn Gordon finished with 10 and Ross added seven, including a basket as time expired in the first quarter that gave the Panthers a 14-3 lead.

Ross said the district title was special for the senior class. Raegan Anderson, Katherine Carrico and Kaelyn Walters are the other seniors on the team.

“We five have been playing together since third grade,” Ross said. “We have an incredible bond. We wanted this and we worked for this so hard.”