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Bluejays fly away

Top rated Sabetha proves too much for Panthers

WLH0207 The Paola Panther Boys continued their never-say-die, all out play on Tuesday evening against the state’s top ranked 3-A basketball squad the Sabetha Bluejays in the opening round of the 16th Annual Burlington Invitational Basketball Tournament. The Panthers played tough again, jumping to a five point lead midway through the first quarter, but in the end it was too much Caleb Kesler, as the Jays pulled away for a 59-46 victory.

Kesler and his running mate Mitch Allen single handedly staked the Bluejays to an 18-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. Kesler and Allen accounted for 17 of the 18 points, with Kesler hitting nine points a Allen eight for the Bluejays.

Skylar Hawkins got the Panthers out to the lead with a jumper to open the game, only to see Kesler tie the game a short time later. Jonathan Pomatto turned in a three point play to give the Panthers back the lead at 5-2, before Kesler again hit a close basket to cut the lead back to one at 5-4. Adam Henn and Pomatto hit baskets to give the Panthers their largest lead at 9-4. Kesler hit a basket and Allen a three point play to tie the game at the 4:36 mark in the the quarter to pull the Bluejays even in the contest.

Sabetha grabbed the lead a short time later on a three pointer by Kesler, a lead they would never relinquish. Jerry Chase hit a free throw, followed by two more free throws by Allen and the lead was at six points. Travis Hayes hit a bucket to cut the lead to four, but Allen nailed a three pointer near the end of the quarter to bump the lead to seven at 18-11.

The Bluejays continued to ride the hot hand of Kelser at the beginning of the second quarter, as he hit four baskets, and the Panthers were able to counter with only two, one by Henn and another by Isaac Cotton, and the Bluejay lead was 11 at 26-15. The Panther called time out with 5:51 to play in the half in an attempt to stop the run. The Jays were slowed, but not entirely stopped, Cotton and Pomotto combined for six points sandwiched around a three point play by Allen to cut the Sabetha lead to eight at 29-21. But Levi Winter and Jerry Chase combined for five point down the stretch which were answered by a single basket by Michael Bryson and the Bluejays held a nine point 34-23 lead at the half.

“We can’t afford to dig ourselves a hole and then try and climb out if it, especially against a good, solid team,” said Panthers Head Coach, Dave Cash. “They’re a solid team, and Kesler and Allen are good players.”

As has been their trademark through this season, the Panthers refused to give up, and, it seems, no lead is too big in the Panthers eyes, as was witnessed in a come from behind victory over rival Osawatomie before the holiday break, which saw the Panthers erase a 15 point halftime bulge.

Travis Hayes opened the second half by hitting two baskets and a free throw around a basket by Kesler to cut the lead to eight at 36-28. The second basket by Hayes also drew the second foul on Kesler. Henn knocked down a jumper at the 5:36 mark in the third quarter and the comeback was on with Paola cutting the Sabetha lead to six and 36-30.

WLH0202 The next minute of clock time was key to the Panthers, as Hayes hit a basket to cut the lead to four at 36-32 and Kesler picked up his third foul on a charging call with 4:29 to play in the quarter. Kesler hit a basket to move the lead back to six at 38-32, but picked up his fourth foul on a technical foul with 4:23 to play in the quarter. Pomatto calmly hit the technical free throws to again get the Panthers to within four at 38-34.

The Bluejays responded the way one would expect a top ranked team to respond. With their leading scorer on the bench, and the Panthers having the ball and a chance to cut the lead to two, or one with a three pointer, the Bluejays instead, got a basket by Allen, a three pointer by Chase and another three pointer by Allen, and the Jays pushed the lead to a more comfortable 12 points at the end of the third quarter. During the 8-0 run to end the quarter, Hayes picked up his fourth foul of the game, which would limit his play the remainder of the game.

Things went from bad to worse for the Panthers to start the fourth quarter, as just seconds into the final period, Skylar Hawkins picked up his fifth foul. Kesler hit baskets around a three pointer by Hayes and a free throw by Brint Hastert and the lead remained at 12, 50-38.

Hayes picked up his fifth foul at the 5:16 mark in the game, allowing Allen to hit two free throws to give Sabetha a 14 point margin at 52-38. The Panthers again tried to fight back, getting a free throw from Henn and baskets by Hastert and Pomatto to cut the lead back to nine at 52-43, at the 4:25 mark in the game. But that was as close as the Panthers would come to the Bluejays, as Kesler hit a bucket and Winkler hit two to move the lead back to 15 at 58-43.

The Panthers got a three pointer from Pomatto to climb back to within 12 at 58-46, but Kesler hit a final free throw for Sabetha and the Bluejays came away with a hard fought 59-46 victory.

“We had several possessions where we went down and threw one pass and then threw up a shot,” Cash said. “We need to use movement to make teams play defense.”

Cash told his team there were positive aspects of the game, including the fact that they can come right back and play again on Friday.

“You guys have the opportunity to go out and battle again,” Cash said. “You need to play a lot smarter though, you need to take this game and learn from it.”

The Panthers will return to the hardwoods in the consolation semi-finals against Santa Fe Trail at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Burlington Middle School.