It was the little things that mattered most. On a night when the Panthers couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean from a pier, they did just enough of all the little things that coaches chirp about incessantly to pull out a Bi-district playoff win against Grape Creek in San Saba last Tuesday.
Junior Colton Childress started the game off by attacking the rim, scoring a couple of buckets early on, but perhaps more importantly, drawing fouls on the Grape Creek big men. This proved especially beneficial later on in the game, when the Blanco posts took over the game late. Childress also collected an offensive rebound on one trip early and kicked it out to sophomore Kyle Sauceda, who then kicked it out to senior Tanner Rogers, who hit a three that gave the Panthers an early 9-4 lead. When Childress got into his own foul trouble, he gave way to sophomore David Ramirez, who proceeded to play strong defense, allowing a 23-18 Blanco halftime lead.
Grape Creek made a run early in the second half, and actually led 28-25, before the Panthers got things going again. Ramirez stepped in front of an Eagle pass and took it the length of the floor for a layup. With Rogers also hampered in minor foul trouble, another sophomore, Brett Champion, came in and hit a three from the corner. Sauceda converted an offensive rebound for a score. Junior Sam Isenberg hit a driving layup along the right side of the paint. Once the Panthers regained the lead, they were not going to relinquish it. Even when the pace picked up early in the fourth quarter, Sauceda and junior Ian Ray worked over the backup posts for the Eagles.
Though neither Ray nor Sauceda shot well on the night, they owned the glass, grabbing 10 and 12 rebounds, respectively.
With a lead, the Panthers went into their X game and chewed up much of the last two minutes. The Eagles hit a layup at the buzzer due to defensive indifference, and the final was 44-41.
Season Ends at Area Play-offs
The basketball playoffs can be quick and cruel. In baseball, there is one series per week. In football, there is of course, one game a week. In the Texas High School basketball playoffs, the field of title hopefuls goes from 96 to 4 in the span of twelve days. There is no time to celebrate or even reflect on the last win. The boys basketball team experienced the swift change of fate in Friday’s Area round loss to Jim Ned Friday in Brady.
Jim Ned, from near Abilene in Tuscola, came into the game state-ranked and lived up to their reputation. It was clear early on that the Panthers would have to play a great game to have a chance to win. Both teams came out hot, and Blanco led 7-6, but that was the last lead the Panthers would hold in the evening. Jim Ned hit 11 three-pointers on the evening, many with hands in their faces, in building an early lead. To make matters worse, junior Ian Ray got in foul trouble early in the game, and the bigger Indians were able to crash the boards with solid results as well.
The Panthers came out fighting to start the second half, scoring the first five points to get back into the game, but Jim Ned would again pull away and this time for good. Senior Tanner Rogers and sophomore Brett Champion hit a combined eight three-pointers for the Panthers, but it was not enough, as the Panthers fell 77-50.
The loss marked the last game for two senior Panthers. The first, Matt Pepper, missed the year with an injury suffered in the football playoff loss to Hempstead. Matt was a starter his junior year, making Honorable Mention All-District, and also played his sophomore year on the varsity. Despite his injury, Matt stayed a part of the team, sometimes keeping statistics, and often encouraging and helping his teammates on the sideline.
The second, Tanner Rogers, was a four-year starter, taking a starting role in the middle of his freshman year and never relinquishing it. Tanner was Honorable Mention All-District his freshman and junior seasons, 2nd Team All-District his sophomore year, and this season was voted unanimously by District 8-AA coaches as Offensive Player of the Year. In district play, Tanner averaged 10.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.7 steals, and 2.8 deflections.
These two young men make it possible for the Panthers to have had the fine season they had, and also allow them to aspire to greater things next season, when the team returns four starters and eight lettermen, along with several solid candidates from the JV.
Others recognized at the 8-AA All-District meeting were: sophomore Kyle Sauceda (Newcomer of the Year); junior Ian Ray (1st Team); junior Sam Isenberg and sophomore David Ramirez (2nd Team); and junior Colton Childress (Honorable Mention).