Panama suf­fers fi­nal four heart­breaker

Gives up 4-point play, and then falls in OT

The Buffalo News - - HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL - By Miguel Ro­driguez

BINGHAMTON — The New York State Pub­lic High Schools Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion Class D boys bas­ket­ball fi­nal four re­mains a place of ag­o­niz­ing de­feat for Panama.

In 2016, the Pan­thers seemed on their way to a state fi­nal — nurs­ing a 13-point lead with five min­utes left only to go cold from the field the rest of the way in a three-point loss. As painful as that one was for Panama coach Ed Nel­son — Satur­day af­ter­noon’s 6157 over­time de­feat to Sec­tion II cham­pion Op­pen­heim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville could very well top that one.

That’s be­cause the Pan­thers seemed like they had punched their ticket into Sun­day’s cham­pi­onship game at Floyd L. Maines Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial Arena. They had a four­point lead with 14 sec­onds left.

Only one thing could’ve burned them, and that’s ex­actly what hap­pened two sec­onds away from be­ing in the big­gest game of the year.

Af­ter Jack Sperry blocked a three-point try by Zach Mosher, the re­bound ric­o­cheted off a cou­ple of hands to Tyler Leon (20 points, 21 re­bounds). The se­nior big man calmly drained the trey and hap­pened to be fouled in the process by Sperry.

Leon drained the free throw — com­plet­ing the four-point play to tie the game at 50 and force over­time. Though Panama scored the first bas­ket of the ex­tra ses­sion, the Wolf­pack (21-3) scored nine of the next 11 points to seize con­trol for good and earn a shot at the ti­tle against Sec­tion X cham­pion Har­risville here at 3 p.m. Sun­day.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Nel­son said. “Both times here and the bas­ket­ball gods weren’t kind to us. You have to fin­ish and we didn’t fin­ish.

“It’s the first three the kid’s hit all year. It was a great shot, we were there, de­fended it in his face . ... A fall­ing away, fade­away out of bounds, he made a great play.”

Al­though OESJ bolted to 15-6 lead through one quar­ter, the Pan­thers (18-7) clawed their way back into it and only trailed 21-20 at half­time. Cam Bar­more had five of his teamhigh 16 points in the sec­ond quar­ter, while Sperry, Mitch Hovey and Do­minic Spon­ta­neo each hit three-point­ers dur­ing the pe­riod.

Though both teams ex­changed the lead dur­ing the fi­nal 16 min­utes of reg­u­la­tion, nei­ther led by more than four points.

Panama seemed to be on its way to vic­tory when Sperry drained a three-pointer that broke a 44-44 tie with 1:14 left. Af­ter two free throws from Bar­more and an­other from Sperry, the Pan­thers led by four. No way they’re not play­ing for the ti­tle, ex­cept ...

“That’s the thing we talked about the whole sec­ond half,” Nel­son said. “We needed to get bod­ies on peo­ple and re­bound and in the end that’s what got us.”

On de­fend­ing the three at the end in­stead of just get­ting out of the way to avoid any po­ten­tial con­tact?

“We just have to play bet­ter de­fense,” Nel­son said. “I’m not go­ing to sec­ond-guess my­self . ... It’s just an­other stinger.”

Was Leon fouled? “I don’t think I had any con­tact,” Sperry said.

“I’m not go­ing to com­ment on whether that was a call or not a call,” Nel­son said. “It was a call on the court and you have to live with it.”

Nonethe­less, a team that scored 14 first-half points in its sea­son opener im­proved to the point where it can be called one of the best in the state — reach­ing the pro­gram’s sec­ond fi­nal four.

“I’m proud of these boys,” Nel­son said.

Panama’s Ger­rit Hins­dale has the ball knocked away by Op­pen­heimEphratah/St. Johnsville’s Lo­gan Dil­len­beck dur­ing the sec­ond half.

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