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Records mean nothing

1-6 Santa Fe Trail pushes Panthers to limit in win

WLH0117 On paper this seemed like an easy game, the Paola Panther Boys Basketball team standing at 4-6, having been in several close games, and pulling off a major upset of state ranked Girard a couple of weeks ago, and coming off a game were they gave the top ranked 3-A team in the state just about all they could handle, was set to take on a 1-6 Santa Fe Trail Charger team that was fresh off a 30 point pasting at the hands of Labette County on Tuesday. The Panthers had to come from behind to beat a well prepared Charger team 59-55 on Friday, January 23, 2009.

On paper, this seemed like a walk in the park, the Panthers would go out and play their game, secure an easy victory, and advance to play in the third place game in the Burlington Invitational Basketball Tournament tonight (Saturday, January 24, 2009), over the Chargers who’s lone victory came over Anderson County.

On paper . . . that’s why the game is not played on paper. In reality, the Panthers ran into a very good Charger team that made people wonder after the game “who have these guys been playing that they’ve only one one game?”

The Panthers came away with the victory, but it was far from easy, and the squad certainly didn’t play with the same intensity they did when the upset Girard. Some of it could be attributed to the sparse crowd on hand, which was probably kept down by the frigid temperatures and light blowing snow outside. Combine that with the lateness of the game, and one has a recipe for a less than energetic gym. But more accurately it was the Panthers lack of focus, especially in the first half that almost spelled their doom. The Panthers, it seemed had already chalked up a win . . . on paper.

“Good teams find a way to win,” said Panther Head Coach Dave Cash. “Even whey they don’t play well.” Now Cash was not ready to anoint his team as a state championship contender, but, as he has been saying all season long, the Panthers have shown signs of improvement, and when they are focused and prepared mentally, they can play with any team that steps on the floor, when they’re not, they can be beaten by any team that steps on the floor, even one that stands at a lowly 1-6.

Assistant Coach Mike Dumpers summed it up perfectly in the locker room following the game. “For us to be successful, we can’t come out an try and slide our way through the first half,” Dumpert said. “We aren’t going to go out and match up with a lot of teams physically, so we better find a mental edge.”

Indeed the Panthers lack of clear focus, and the physical disparity in the teams became apparent for the start, as the Chargers went to their big man inside, 6’7” Stuart Kraus early and often. Kraus played as well as any post player has against the Panther defense this year, scoring early and often and displaying good hands and a soft touch from both the floor and the free throw line, a spot where, by virtue of the fact that the Panthers really don’t have an answer for a big guy like that, he spend a lot of time. Kraus also demonstrated long arms and a shot blocking presence inside that kept the Panthers at bay most of the evening.

Kraus hit seven points in the opening period to keep the Chargers nipping a the heels of the Panthers. The Panthers got solid play from Skylar Hawkins and Adam Henn in the period, at the pair gave the Panthers an early edge, helping Paola open an 8-6 lead on a basket and three point play by Henn and a Hawkins three point basket. Travis Hayes and Nick Wilson kept the Panthers in the lead with a basket and two free throws respectively before Kraus hit thee of four free throws to move the Chargers back up by two at 14-12. Hawkins hit two quick baskets to reclaim the lead for Paola, before Garrett Morrison tied the game at 16 all. Brint Hastert closed out the quarter for the Panthers with a basket and after one period of play Paola was clinging to an 18-16 lead.

WLH0154 Wilson and Hayes again combined for free throws and a field goal to increase the lead to four at 22-18, but then the Chargers took off on a 9-0 run highlighted by two baskets by Kraus and two free throws and a three pointer from Corey Dahl and Santa Fe Trail found themselves with a five point, 27-22 advantage, and prompting Coach Cash to call time out with just over three minutes to play in the half.

The Panthers got two free throws from Wilson, but the Chargers answered with a basket by Denver Ramsey and a free throw from Morrison to open a six point lead. But Jonathan Pomatto stepped up near the end of the period and the Panther senior nailed a late three pointer to claw Paola within three at the intermission at 30-27.

Things didn’t look too good for Paola as the teams took the floor for the second half. The Chargers obviously decided to take the ball inside on the Panthers and force them to stop the big man, and in the early going the Panthers clearly had no answer to the challenge as Kraus hit three basket early, the first two opening a seven point lead for the Chargers. If it hadn’t been for a hot hand by Pomatto, the Panthers might have been in real trouble, but after a field goal and a three pointer sandwiched around the third basket by Kraus, the Charger lead had increased by only one point at 36-32 and the Chargers called time out with just over three minutes to play in the period.

Santa Fe Trail opened its biggest lead of the game on a three point play coming out of the time out, but once again Hawkins stepped up and hit two big buckets sandwiched around a Charger basket by Joseph Barrrett and the lead was cut to five at 41-36. The Panthers quickly erased that with a three pointer from Michael Bryson and another bucket from Pomatto with just under a minute to play in the quarter to get the game tied at 41 as the teams headed to the fourth quarter of play.

The Chargers regained the lead on two free throws by Kraus and a deep three pointer by Dahl around a bucket by Pomatto, and by the time the Panthers’ Travis Hayes picked up his foruth foul with 4:57 to play in the game, the Chargers were back on top by three at 46-43.

Pomatto hit a driving basket and free throw and Hawkins added a basket to give the Panthers their first lead since early in the second quarter at 48-46, but that lead would be short as Dahl nailed another three pointer to move the Chargers back to a one point advantage. Bryson hit the second of two free throws and Hawkins made a driving layup off a steal to open a two point 51-49 lead, but Morrison answered for the Chargers with two free throws to tie the game again at 51 with a little over three minutes to play.

WLH0160 Henn hit a big three pointer and Hawkins added a basket and the Panthers were able to open a four point margin at 56-52 with just under two minutes to play in the game. Bryson mis-fired on the front end of a one and one situation and Hawkins made the front end of a one and one, sandwiched around two free throws from Morrison and the Panthers clung to a tenuous three point, 57-54 lead with half a minute to play.

Bryson was fouled, and had to be replaced at the line because he was bleeding, but Isaac Cotton was unable to convert on the one and one and the Panthers lead was still three. Dahl had a chance to pull the Chargers within one with seven seconds to play, but was only able to convert one of two free throws, and when senior Adam Henn stepped to the line two seconds later, the outcome was still very much in doubt. As he did a couple of games ago against Baldwin, Henn calmly nailed both free throws to seal the victory for Paola.

“We played better in the second half,” Cash said. “They are a much improved basketball team from last year.”

“It just proves what I’ve been saying,” he continued. “We can’t go out and do crazy things, we have to play smart.”

Cash told his team they would face a very tough game against host Burlington in the third place game on Saturday, but, with the win they had already surpassed the victory total of last years team, and they had a chance to move their record to an even 6-6 with a win.

“A .500 record with the teams we’ve had on our schedule won’t look too bad,” Cash said. “But we’re going to have to play with more energy on the defensive end, and we’re going to have to play with focus from the start, we can’t afford to give away the first half and have a chance to win.”

The Panthers will face the Burlington Wildcats in the third place game at 4:45 today (Saturday, January 24, 2009). The host Wildcats stand at 6-5 after a come from behind victory over Iola on Friday.