TROY - Panama keeps dreaming of a girls state high school basketball championship, and Heuvelton keeps getting in the way.
It happened for the third straight year at Hudson Valley Community College, as the Panthers dropped a 78-54 decision to the Lady Bulldogs. The game was for the Class D championship.
"They get on this stage, and they rise up," Panama coach Jeff Angeletti said. "We just didn't match their intensity. They were all knocking down shots. When we'd help out on the scorers, some of their other players made big shots."
It was easy to figure out the major difference between the two teams. Heuvelton had a Division I recruit on its roster in senior Paige McCormick, and Panama didn't. McCormick put on a dominating performance, scoring 31 points.
After seeing her in action in the last two state championships, it's almost surprising that Angeletti didn't offer to drive her to the University of Massachuestts to start her studies a bit early. But McCormick stayed for her senior year, and was terrific in helping her team win a third straight title.
"One of the first things I said to her after the game was that I couldn't wait to see her playing for UMass," he said. "I told her I'd still be rooting for St. Bonaventure when she came to Olean. She laughed at that."
McCormick demonstrated an arsenal of weapons not usually seen in Class D. At one point, she changed directions so quickly and easily in a drive to the basket that you could hear a few gasps.
"People came to me and asked, 'Is she Division 1 material?' " Huevelton coach Rob Powers said. "I'd answer, 'I don't know I've never had one before.' But she does things in practice that I've never seen from a player - boy or girl."
Panthers forward Nicole Johnson added, "She's a great player - she's going places."
The news for Panama wasn't good from the very beginning of the game. Heuvelton jumped out to a 20-13 lead in the first period, with McDonald scoring nine points in a row.
Then everything went wrong for the Panthers. The Lady Bulldogs ripped off 16 straight points to go ahead, 36-13, with 4:21 left in the second quarter. The Panama scoring drought lasted for more than six minutes.
"I think we were prepared for them, but our shots didn't fall and we had too many turnovers," Johnson said.
Angeletti added, "We just couldn't stop them in transition. When we caught the ball, we'd just launch it. When we were about to make a good defensive stop, they'd back-door it and score with two or three seconds on the shot clock."
Each basket by the Lady Bulldogs drew massive applause from their fans, who drove down from Northern New York in droves for the weekend. Since the population of Heuvelton was only 704 at last count, it was easy to wonder who was minding the town.
"We have two cows, a goat and a farmer left there," Powers said.
Panama also had plenty of fan support on its side of the court, which was very appreciated.
"For them to drive more than six hours to get here - the community was just great. I love it," Johnson said.
Madalyn Bowen had 20 points for Panama, while Natalie Angeletti added 19. Madison McCormick added 21 points for Heuvelton.
The Panthers finished the season with a 20-6 record. To go from the third seed in Section VI to the runner-up to the state shows what sort of memorable run they had in the past few weeks.
"It's bittersweet," Angeletti said. "To lose the way we did is tough, but we fought hard throughout the game.
"This is a special group. We lost three special seniors from last year, including two starters. With the schedule we went through, I'm so proud of these girls. They can hold their heads high."