INDEPENDENCE — The Panthers (7-7, Mid-Willamette Conference, 16-9) arrived to their first play-in game with claws out. What started as a fast lead over Marist (6-8, Midwestern League, 12-13) soon led to a nail-chewing, foul-heavy fourth quarter that resulted in a win by the Panthers, 60-53.
Throughout the first half, the Panthers attacked with an energy and focus coach Tim Kreta said he hadn’t seen from them in a while. Working together as though they were all part of the same body, defense continuously found gaps through Marist’s offense, taking the opportunity to score and create a gap that would leave the Spartans struggling to catch up to until the fourth quarter.
“They knew we had a big task at hand,” Kreta said. “Marist plays in probably the toughest league in state right now. We came out, hit a couple of shots early on; we were able to get some deflections that caused them into some poor decision making, and capitalized on it.”
Senior Peter Mendazona led the team with 14 points, Brendan Lesmeister and Isaiah Abraham followed with 13, and Javier Cantu contributed seven.
The crowd’s immense energy expanded as the game wore on, with each team’s fans celebrating and jeering at one another throughout the game.
Play-in games carry more intensity due to the fact that whoever wins moves on, and for the losing side: it’s game over — literally.
Fourth quarter found the Panthers up by 18, but the win they had locked in started to slip as the Spartans took advantage of the Panther’s waning energy.
“We get tired so it’s hard to keep that energy, but we gotta keep pushing through it and keep that energy going,” senior Josh Rodriguez said.
Senior Jace Krier, of Marist, scored seven 3-pointers in a row, and the rest of the team scored nine points in a row, working to pull up from their sluggish start and bring their score back up.
It appeared as though the Panthers were succumbing to the pressure of the evening.
“I dunno, it was kind of a bad storm for us,” Mendazona said. “We obviously hit our shots and had it going the first half; the second half, we missed some lay-ins, we didn’t get back on defense, they hit some shots too, just a mixture of all that brought it to that.”
As the gap in scoring began to close, 53-51 with 48.9 seconds on the clock, the Panthers faced foul trouble from the Spartans that allowed them to step up to the free-throw line and use that as a way to stretch the score out again, only to have it closed when fouls from the Panthers put Marist on the line.
Relief echoed around the gym as the buzzer rang, signaling the end of the game and a solid, and well-deserved, win for the Panthers.
“That was a lot of fun; it’s high school basketball at its best,” Kreta said. “I’m glad those guys did it.”
For the seniors, this game packed a meaningful punch.
“This was our last game here (in the Panther Pit),” Abraham said. “And it means a lot to us to go out and win as much as we can.”
One more game and the Panthers could make it to the elite eight, and a chance to play at Gil Coliseum, in Corvallis.
Focus is the key, here.
“We just remember we are all seniors,” Abraham said. “This is our last game here, and it means a lot to us to go out and win as much as we can.”
Panthers lose to Wilsonville: The Panthers (7-7, Mid-Willamette Conference, 16-10) traveled to Wilsonville (14-0, Northwest Oregon Conference, 19-6) on Saturday for their first playoff game, and despite a hard-fought game, the boys lost, 56-31.
It was a tough loss for the Panthers, as this game determined if they moved on to the final eight. First quarter, the Wildcats secured a lead and by half time, they were up, 19-10. The Panthers couldn’t seem to match their energy and only managed to score 11 more points through the second half.
Brenden Lesmeister led the game with 11 points, Kaleb Kantola followed with five, and Peter Mendazona added four.