TROY – Panama had no interest in being careful what it was wishing for when it set its goal on wanting to earn a rematch with defending state Class D champion Heuvelton.
That was the Panthers’ goal ever since losing in the state semifinals to the Bulldogs in blowout fashion last year. Panama wanted revenge and on Sunday morning at the site of the most painful defeat in program history, the Panthers had their chance.
With the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class D girls basketball championship there for the taking, the Panthers fell just short of achieving their goal, again. Heuvelton of Section X defeated Panama, 62-60, before an estimated 1,000 at Hudson Valley Community College to complete the unbeaten season.
Tournament MVP and senior Paige McCormick scored 13 of her game-high 27 points during the Bulldogs’ decisive 18-4 run from midway through the third quarter to the early stages of the fourth, while Natalie Barr’s three in the final minute proved to be the daggers that warded off a gritty effort by the Panthers.
“It’s definitely more painful, especially because it was just two points,” senior Taylor Bowen said. “I know next year they’re going to come back and do great.”
After the two teams played to a 24-24 halftime draw, the Bulldogs pulled away once McCormick returned to the game after taking a seat due to foul trouble. She started the run with two layups and later swished a trey to make it 43-37. Heuvelton led, 47-39, after three.
The 6-foot-6 McCormick, last year’s tournament MVP, proved to be tough to stop when she attacked the basket off the dribble. With defenders needing to respect her driving ability, that also gave her enough room to shoot from downtown. She connected on 3 of 4 three-pointers.
“Third quarter, Paige McCormick showed why she’s so special,” Panama coach Jeff Angeletti said. “She probably could be the MVP of Class AA, too. … She just took the game over.”
“She’s just a great all-around player,” Bowen said.
Emilee Sperry had 17 to lead Panama (22-5), including a trey at the buzzer for the final margin.
Trailing by 52-39 with 6:29 left, the Panthers attempted to rally as Sperry, Taylor Bowen and Madalyn Bowen took turns scoring as they pulled Panama within five on three occasions during the final two minutes but that’s as close as it could get until Sperry’s 30-footer at the end.
“To come up short hurts,” Angeletti said. ”I’m still proud of the way the team played.”
While Panama openly wanted Heuvelton, it should be noted that both programs have developed the utmost respect for each other. Angeletti and Bulldogs counterpart Rob Powers shared a handshake and kind words afterward – vowing to keep meeting under these circumstances.
While both teams lose key seniors, they both have a young nucleus of talent that should continue to make them teams to beat in their respective sections.