For the third time in three years, the Prairie City Panthers boys basketball team came home from the 1A state basketball tournament in Baker City hoisting a trophy. This time around, the boys took sixth place, losing to fourth-place Ione/Arlington 57-53 in the consolation finals Saturday.
The Panthers, who at the end of the first period of play were down by 16 points, chipped away at the Cardinals’ lead and tied the game up at 45 apiece by the end of third quarter.
Senior Lucas McKinley said, if the Panthers would have played like they did in third period throughout the entire game, they would have won by 30 points.
McKinley said the team played at half-steam for the first two periods of the game. McKinley said, after the team lost to the No. 3 seed Crosshill Christian 63-40 in the quarterfinal game Thursday, taking the Panthers out of contention for first place, there was not much incentive for the team to play to win and take fourth place.
“A lot of us had the mentality that we did not need to play too hard since we were only playing for fourth place,” McKinley said.
McKinley said the team turned it around after a pep talk from head coach Bo Workman. He said that Workman reminded them that this was their last game of the season, and for the seniors this was the last time they would be playing together.
Workman said the talk was short and to the point.
“I told them that this is it, this is the last time you guys will all get to play together,” Workman said. “I told them they might as well make the best of it.”
“We realized after that we had to play with a lot more intensity,” McKinley said. “And that is what we did, but we came up a little short.”
In his last appearance as a Panther, senior Cole Deiter, the team’s leading scorer all season, said the Panthers “could not go out like that.”
Deiter said, while the season did not end the way he wanted it to, to come back from us as much as a 16- to 20-point deficit was in and of itself a victory.
Deiter scored 22 points and added 12 rebounds and three blocks in the game. McKinley had 11 points with five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Falling in the quarterfinals
Going into the state tournament, the Panthers, with a 9-0 league record and just one loss overall, could not overcome the No. 3 seed Crosshill Christian in the quarterfinals Thursday, losing 63-40.
Prairie City scored first on a basket by Deiter, but Crosshill Christian quickly tied it up. McKinley gave the Panthers the lead with a 3-point shot, but Crosshill Christian answered to tie it at 5.
Deiter again gave the Panthers a lead, 7-5, with a field goal with 4:13 remaining in the first quarter. But Crosshill Christian hit another 3-pointer and never gave up the lead after that.
Crosshill Christian led 18-9 at the end of the first quarter. At the half, the score was 31-18. Prairie City scored 14 points in the third, but Crosshill Christian added 19.
Crosshill Christian had three players score in double digits, led by Evan Dallum with 15. The team shot 46% from the field and hit 9-24 from 3-point range.
Sophomore Marcus Judd said the Eagles played their best game of the season.
The Panthers, on the other hand, shot for 29% from the field and were 5-23 beyond the arc. Deiter led the Panthers with 14 points, followed by McKinley with 12 points. Deiter also had six rebounds, a block and an assist. Judd had seven rebounds and three blocks, and Zweygardt had five rebounds.
The team had 16 turnovers and five assists.
Winning in triple overtime
Deiter, who was named player of the game of all three games in the tournament and scored a total of 52 points in the tourney, said the team’s win over the Joseph Eagles in triple overtime in the first consolation game Friday was great experience as well.
Deiter said the Panthers, who lost their only game of the regular season to the Eagles Dec. 6, had long wanted an opportunity to avenge the loss.
McKinley said, while beating the Eagles in such a dramatic fashion was exciting, it was, in his experience, the lowest-scoring triple overtime game in recent memory.
“It had to be the most boring triple overtime game ever,” McKinley said. “We only scored 51 points.”
Judd said that the early-morning start played a role in the team not hitting their shots.
“After the first quarter, we were not hitting our shots,” Judd said.
When it counted, the Panthers stepped up and improved their accuracy. Prairie City shot 33% from the field overall and 39% in overtime, compared to 23% overall for Joseph and 22% in overtime. The improvement in overtime made the difference in what was their only win in the tourney.
“It was a great feeling to pull off a win like that,” Judd said.
Judd said the fact that it was the team that dealt them their only loss in the regular season made it all the more satisfying.
Prairie City Athletic Director Billy Colson said the Panthers have a lot to be proud of and should hold their heads high.
“It is impressive that the boys team has been to state three years in a row and have won games,” Colson said.
Workman said he expects eight players to return to varsity, but he is losing four. Along with Deiter and McKinley, Opie McDaniel and Carson McKay are graduating.
Workman said he expects four players from junior varsity to move up to the varsity squad.
“It all depends on how bad they want it and how much work they put in over the off season,” Workman said.
For his part, Judd said he plans to attend a basketball camp over the summer and work on his free throw shooting.
“I just want to improve my skills,” Judd said.
As for the seniors who are moving on, the end of the season is bittersweet.
“It has been a really fun experience to play on a team that has gone to state two years in a row,” McKinley said. “Most people don’t get that experience even once. I got to do it twice.”
Deiter, who transferred to Prairie City two years ago, said the basketball program allowed him to grow as a player.
“I evolved and matured as a player, and I owe that to the coaching staff,” Deiter said.
He said the commitment, camaraderie and chemistry all contributed to his growth.
“I just want thank them (coaching staff),” Deiter said. “I am really going to miss playing with everybody. “