HENRIETTA – Panama locked up its second straight trip to the state final four in a 56-51 win over Wheatland-Chili in the Class D Far West Regional Saturday at Rush-Henrietta High School.
The Panthers pounced on the Wildcats for a big third quarter with Wheatland-Chili standout senior Taylor Clar on the bench with four fouls. Panama outscored the Panthers 17-9 in the second and third quarters to build a 44-29 lead after three.
Senior Emilee Sperry hit a trio of three-pointers in the third to stretch the lead that survived a Wildcats push in the game’s final minutes.
“She’s got such a quick release,” Panama head coach Jeff Angeletti said. “She was saying in the first couple quarters, ‘Coach what do I have to do on my shot?’ and I said ‘Just shoot it quicker.’
Sperry finished with 16 points, while eighth grader Natalie Angeletti finished with 13.
Leading 11-10 after one, Wheatland-Chili pushed the pace to start the second quarter to gain a five-point lead. Senior Emily Sperry answered with a three-pointer from the left arc to cut the deficit, and the teams traded baskets and turnovers for most of the quarter until Madalyn Bowen tied the game at 20 for the Panthers.
A three-point play inside for Angeletti gave Panama the lead with 2:02 left in the half, forcing Wheatland-Chili coach Todd Grimes to call a timeout as the Panama faithful gave the Panthers a standing ovation.
A pair of free throws each by Angeletti and senior Taylor Bowen sent the Panthers into the break with the largest lead of the game for either team.
That lead quickly hit double digits in the third quarter when Clar went to the bench with her fourth foul just after making a pair of three-pointers.
Clar (19 points) re-entered the game with 57.9 left in the third and played the entire fourth quarter without picking up another foul. She led a furious fourth quarter comeback for Wheatland-Chili, scoring eight points but hitting just two of eight fourth-quarter free throws.
Senior Taylor Bowen had 6 of her 12 points in the fourth, including four clutch free throws with the Panthers lead down to single digits.
“She’s a conductor out there. She knew she wanted to have the ball at the end there,” Grimes said.
An Abbey Callaghan runner cut the deficit to six with 2:34 left in the game, but Panama executed down the stretch, using the shot clock and making free throws to keep it a two-possession game.
Jenna LaMere hit a long three with 14.8 seconds left to make it 54-51 Panthers, but Bowen made her free throws and a Clar runner hit the side of the backboard to end the comeback attempt.
The Panama girls join the Panthers boys basketball team in moving on to the state semifinals, with the girls playing Fort Edward at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College.
“To be honest with you we could both win states,” Angeletti said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. We can do some damage.”