Dunmars steal lifts Panthers 49-47

Just because the ball is round, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t bounce in crazy directions. Three night ago, the Paola Panthers turned in one of their most lackluster performances in recent memory, when they dropped a three point decision to the Osage City Indians, while the Cardinals defeated the top ranked 4A team in the state by the same three point margin. The Paola performance caused all sorts of questions to be asked about this year’s edition of Panther Basketball.

WLH0613 What a difference 72 hours makes! Maybe it was some serious soul searching by the Panthers, maybe it was just a return to winter weather outside, maybe it was the more highly charged atmosphere of the PHS Gym for homecoming. Whatever it was, it added up to a thrilling 49-47, last second victory for the Panthers over the Eudora Cardinals on Friday, January 29, 2010.

“That was a big, big win,” said Panthers Head Coach Dave Cash. “But it wasn’t the biggest, not by a long shot, we still have a lot of big basketball games to play the rest of the season.”

But for tonight, the Panthers can put on their dancin’ shoes and have a little fun at the homecoming dance, courtesy of a Travis Hayes three pointer with a minute and a half to play, and the icing on the cake, a Justin Dunmars steal at half court and drive to the basket with five seconds remaining, giving the Panthers the much needed victory.

“It was pretty nerve racking,” Dunmars said. “But I had confidence that I could make the shot, it’s nice to pick up the win.”

The Panthers didn’t light up the scoreboard, but they played defense on a level that would allow them to be choosy about where and when to attack the basket. Still, the Panthers didn’t get to the rim consistently enough to shoot a lot of free throws, and when they did, the Panthers weren’t very good hitting just three of nine from the line, but since Eudora only got to the line three times, the poor free throw percentage didn’t hurt.

“When you play defense like that,” Cash said. “Good things happen, when you play with energy and play together, it makes things easier.”

The Panthers were on point from the start in this game, jumping to an 8-2 lead, only to see the Cardinals go on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 10-10 late in the first quarter. As the first quarter ended and the second quarter began, the Panthers suffered their only real lull on the evening, seeing the Cardinals go on another 8-0 run after Isaac Cotton had given Paola a 12-10 lead to open their biggest lead of the half at six point 18-12 just as the second quarter began.

Dunmars, Nick Wilson and Hayes pulled the Panthers back to within one at 20-19 a short time later, but the Cardinals surged back to a six point lead at 27-21, before Hayes hit a free throw and a field goal to get the Panthers back to a three point deficit as the teams broke for halftime.

During the halftime festivities, Allison Wood and Jessie Smail were named the Panthers 2010 Winter Homecoming Queen and King.

Wilson and Hayes brought the Panthers back to a 31-31 tie, as the two sandwiched baskets around a Eudora two pointer, then Hayes the second of his three treys on the night to pull the Panthers back to even. The tie was short lived though, and soon the Cardinals had pulled back to a four point lead at 35-31 and 37-33. Skylar Hawkins and Dunmars pulled the Panthers back into a tie with back to back baskets before Justin Ballock hit two of his game high 23 points to put the Cardinals back in front at 39-37.

Wilson hit his only three of the night to give the Panthers a brief 41-40 lead, but Ballock put the Cardinals back in front as the quarter ended with a field goal as time expired, and then followed that with another two pointer as the fourth quarter opened and the Cardinals were back in front by three at 43-40.

Hayes and Cotton hit baskets around a bucket by Evan Cleveland to cut the Cardinal lead to one at 45-44 with about six minutes to play in the game. Cotton picked up his fifth personal foul and went to the bench a short time later at the five and a half minute mark in the game. The teams traded trips up and down the floor, but neither could score, and the team foul situation kept both teams off the free throw line for the next four minutes of play.

Ballock scored the last of his points with a minute and a half to play to give the Cardinals a three point lead and set up Hayes and Dunmars heroics.

“That’s just how crazy the game of basketball is,” Cash said. “Three days ago they beat the #1 team in 4A, and tonight we beat them.”

The Panthers were lead in scoring by Wilson who hit for 17 points, followed closely by Hayes with 16 points including three from three point range. Cotton hit for eight points before he fouled out, and Dunmars hit six, including the biggest bucket of the night. Bollock lead all scorers with 23 and Noble hit for 10 to be the only Cardinals to hit for double figures. Eudora was three for three from the free throw line and hit no three pointers.

“Coach Dumpert always says, ‘You’re either getting better, or you’re getting worse, you never stay the same’,” Cash told his team after the game. “Tonight you got better. You were consistent tonight, and I’m very proud of you, everyone contributed to this victory.”

The Panthers will have little time to bask in the glow of this win, as they will host the DeSoto Wildcats on Tuesday night, February 2, 2010 in a game that postponed by bad weather earlier in the month, then they will travel to Ottawa to take on the talented Cyclones on Friday night.