Panama’s boys basketball team earned its first trip to the state final four by beating Rochester private school C.G. Finney in the Far West Regionals on Saturday, 70-57, at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
The win was the 21st in a row for the veteran Panthers leading to the Class D state championships at Glens Falls Civic Center against either Moriah of Section VII or Argyle of Section II in the semifinals at 10 a.m. Friday.
“It’s a special thing,” Panama coach Ed Nelson said. “It doesn’t happen every year, especially at a small, rural school like ours. To make it to the final four, to make it to the show, was one of our goals all along – five, six, seven years ago. It feels unbelievable.”
Panama won a string of sectional titles in the 1960s and early 1970s, but had a long drought before returning to dominance in 2012. It lost in the Far West Regionals that year to private Batavia-Notre Dame, but used a balanced attack to make sure history didn’t repeat itself Saturday.
Josh Odell scored 22 points to lead the Panthers, who had answers for every type of defense Finney coach Joe Marchand could draw up. Chris Blose scored 17 points, Jack Payne had 13, Josh Eddy had 12 and Jarett Yuchnitz added six as Panama’s five starting seniors accounted for all 70 points.
“They run a press back to a 1-3-1 defense and we were real well-prepared for that,” Nelson said. “We’ve seen them run a 3-1 chaser, triangle-and-2, inverted triangle-and-2, man-to-man … you name it, they tried to run it out there. Their coach is a good coach.”
Finney held a two-point lead at halftime, with 24 of its 34 points coming on three-pointers. Shooting 61.5 percent from behind the arc, though, was clearly unsustainable, and when Finney’s regression began early in the third quarter, Panama seized the opportunity and used a 13-0 run to lead for good.
Eddy, a 6-foot-7 forward, had established himself in the low post and gave the shooters room to work. Blose’s bucket started the run, and Payne and Odell hit triples to push Panama in front. The offensive burst, combined with Panama’s stingy defense and Finney’s cold shooting, led a 23-10 third quarter that broke the game open.
“We have a lot of people who just do their roles,” Blose said. “We have Jarett Yuchnitz who plays good defense. We have two good shooters who didn’t miss today and Josh Eddy down low.”
Panama’s hot second half propelled it to 9 for 18 from three while Finney cooled to 44.8 percent (13 of 29). Simeon Heard led the Falcons with 24 points while Eddy’s 16 rebounds gave Panama a 38-21 advantage on the boards.
“We had them at halftime,” Marchand said, “but we were worried because we were shooting pretty well and we didn’t think that would continue to go like that. So we felt we had to really buckle down on D, but they can shoot, and they have that 6-7 Eddy kid in the paint. Six-foot is our biggest kid so it was tough for us to match up with him inside.”