ROCHESTER — A win over unbeaten Aquinas in the Little Irish’s backyard just wasn’t in the cards for Jamestown and the Red Raiders’ big three Saturday night at Gates Chili High School.
But Zack Panebianco, Stephen Carlson and Ben Larson sure did have fun putting a scare into the Section V champions, almost pulling off the unthinkable before an estimated 1,500 fans. In the end, Aquinas had just too much talent and scoring options for the Red Raiders to deal with as the Little Irish pulled out a 76-70 victory in the Class AA Far West Regional boys basketball game.
Aquinas closed with 17-6 run over the final 4 minutes, 49 seconds to turn a five-point deficit into its closest win of the season.
Panebianco, who has a history of being clutch, didn’t disappoint as he rose to the occasion and finished with a game-high 31 points to lead Jamestown (19-4), but the Little Irish off set his efforts by receiving scoring from eight players, including four who hit double-digits led by Jalen Pickett’s 18 points.
Patrick McLamore didn’t reach double figures, but the senior guard’s pull-up jumper in the lane with 2:05 left gave Aquinas the lead for good. A minute earlier, he tied the game at 67 on a pair of free throws as he scored half of his eight points in just 60 seconds.
“It was such a great feeling to get the lead in the fourth quarter, we thought we could run away with it,” said Panebianco, who posted his fifth 30-point game of the season. “But they responded. They’re a great team. It went down to the end.”
Jamestown never let Aquinas get ahead by double digits as each time the Little Irish threatened to pull away, it responded. The biggest push back came during a third quarter with the Red Raiders down eight. Carlson, Panebianco’s good friend, scored seven of his 11 points in the quarter, including a three-point play that pulled Jamestown within four. James Rojas had five of nine points in that quarter and he canned a three that made it 53-52 Aquinas entering the fourth.
That’s when Panebianco, who scored 10 of Jamestown’s first 12 points of the game went off the hook, trying to will the Red Raiders to their second straight state final four. He scored 15 of his team’s 18 points during the final eight minutes. He scored 11 straight to turn a 57-56 deficit into a 67-64 lead with 3:50 left.
That’s the last time the Red Raiders led in this one as Aquinas earned a date with Section XI champion Brentwood in the state semifinals at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Glens Falls Civic Center.
“We knew they hadn’t been in a close game,” Panebianco said. “We wanted to see how they’d respond. If there’s a way for the season to end, it’d be to a team like that.”
The loss ends quite a run for Panebianco, Carlson and Larson, who had 14 points. They’re longtime friends and teammates in football and basketball, who played their final game together for Jamestown.
They will graduate with quite the athletic resume as the trio helped the football program win back-to-back Section VI titles, capped by last fall’s state championship – the school’s first since 2000. They also helped the basketball team win three straight Section VI titles, the first time the school has done that since 1947-49. Of course, there was last year’s run to the state final.
That’s a lot of fond memories and good times.
“It’s pretty sentimental,” Carlson said of their last game together as Red Raiders. “We’re kind of considered the Big Three. We wanted to go out with a bang. We came up just short, but we cherished the time we had together.”
“It was a great four years of high school,” Panebianco said. “We gave teams great games. We definitely won more than we lost.”