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Panama's title quest falls short as Moriah rallies for 62-59 win

GLENS FALLS – Sometimes basketball can be a cruel game.

A team can still work the ball on offense for the shots it desires yet there’s no guarantee the rock is going to fall through that hole.

Panama learned that in the most excruciating fashion possible Friday morning as its best season ever came to painful end with a 62-59 loss to Section VII champion Moriah in the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class D semifinal.

Trailing by 13 points with 5 minutes, 32 seconds remaining, the unbeaten Vikings snapped the Panthers’ 21-game winning streak by closing this one on a shocking 16-0 run. Taylor Slattery scored seven of his team-high 24 points during the run and assisted on what proved to be the game-winning basket by Joey Stahl with 43.3 seconds left.

The Panthers (22-3) had three chances to score to either force overtime or regain the lead they held for most of the game but each one clanked away. Josh Eddy came up short on an open layup for the tie with 28 seconds left as the 6-foot-7 senior said he rushed the shot for fear of a Viking - specifically 6-7 Adam Jaquish (five blocks, 14 points) coming out of nowhere to block it.

"I should've taken my time," said Eddy, who scored seven points and grabbed 19 rebounds while batting Moriah's tall front line. "I feel like I let my teammates down. ... We're just not used to missing 10 straight shots. That's different for us."

"Sometimes it's not meant to be and hard work doesn't guarantee success," Panama coach Ed Nelson said. "They gave everything they had."

Moriah (26-0) plays Oriskany of Section III for the title at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Oriskany advanced with a 59-40 win over Clark Academy of Section I.

Panama came into this contest as the undersized underdog against a Moriah crew with a starting five consisting of players 6-foot-3 or taller. That didn’t stop a well-oiled Panthers offense, with just two starters 6-foot or taller, from doing what it does best – working the ball and attacking the basket, especially when the Vikings played zone during the first half before an estimated 1,500 fans.

Panama built on a 14-13 first-quarter lead with a 24-13 second quarter in which it rained three-pointers and scored in the paint. Odell scored 19 of his game-high 26 points in the opening 16 minutes, including 11 points during that run.

Moriah switched to man in order to limit Odell’s effectiveness. The plan worked as the Vikings limited his touches but even then, the Panthers’ offense was causing a whole lot of chaos nonetheless. Chris Blose (eight points) and Odell combined for 13 of Panama's 14 third quarter points. When Eddy converted a traditional three-point play early in the fourth quarter, the rout was seemingly close to fruition as the Panthers led 55-39.

Then the basketball gods placed a lid of the basket and the close chances they worked for stopping dropping. Panama missed its final 10 shots, including four layups.

"It stinks. We had a big lead and then we just didn't finish," Eddy said.

"They're a very good basketball team," said Nelson, whose team did a good job preventing the Vikings from running in transition until the final minutes. "We were a little worn out at the end. ... They gave everything they had. They can put their head on their pillow and now wonder 'what if.'"

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