The Prairie City Panthers boys basketball team is heading to the state tournament for the third consecutive season after defeating Crane 56-41 in the championship round of the High Desert League Basketball Tournament.
The Panthers, who entered the league tourney in the No. 1 seed, reached the championship game after defeating Adrian 65-50 on Friday.
The Panthers defeated Crane 46-45 in the final seconds of last year’s district championship game and came into Saturday’s game expecting to face a team that was hungry and out to avenge last year’s loss.
Although Prairie City defeated Crane both times they’ve faced each other this season, the games have been competitive and hard-fought. This game was no exception.
“We expected it to be a real battle with Crane,” said Prairie City junior Jojari Field.
Early on, it looked like it would be another close championship game. Crane shooter Chase Joyce nailed a pair of field goals and a 3-point jumper within first few minutes of the game to fire up the Mustangs’ offense.
Joyce would go on to score a game-high 25 points on 10 field goals and hit two out of six free-throws.
With four minutes left to play in the first quarter, Crane was up 7-3.
Junior Jayden Winegar, who put up an all-around solid game, nailed two of his five field goals, while Field drained a 3-pointer to even up the score at 7.
By the end of the first period, the teams were tied 10-10.
In the second half, the Panthers’ shots started to land. In the third quarter, Prairie City outscored Crane 14-8.
By the end of the third period of play, the Panthers led the Mustangs 34-26.
With Winegar, sophomore Marcus Judd and senior Cole Deiter all scoring in double figures and combining for 39 points, the Panthers never looked back and outscored Crane 20-13 in the fourth quarter.
“They’re really playing good together as a team,” head coach Bo Workman said.
Judd, who scored 13 points and was one of three at the free-throw line, was named player of the game.
“I am proud of our team and all that we have accomplished this season,” Field said.
Field said all of the teams in the tournament played hard and that should not go unnoticed.
“I think they all deserve to be recognized,” he said.
With the win, the Panthers clinched a first-round bye in the state tournament. The second round kicks off Feb. 29 with the game times and teams to be announced.