On Jan. 7, the Hanna Elk Mountain (HEM) Miners boys basketball team came to Saratoga, only to have a Panther eat their canary. Though Saratoga posted a 58-40 victory, the game's margin was much tighter throughout most of regulation, with a late Saratoga-surge providing the Panthers a buffer.
Saratoga exited the first quarter up 15-11, and expanded that lead to 25-16 by half time.
Trouble struck in the third, however, with Saratoga missing shots and HEM responding with a series of fastbreaks and exploited opportunities. When HEM inched within 4 points (32-28) with 2:48 left in the third period, Saratoga coach Jason Williams had seen enough and called a time out.
The coach said he did so to give tired players a chance to recover, but joked, "I also wanted to bark at them a little bit." More seriously, "I told them that if they didn't go out and get this game, if they didn't dig in and win, then Hanna was going to take it," Williams recounted. "It was going to come down to effort," he told his team. "Who want(s) the game more?" Williams asked.
Whatever motivation Williams provided, the Panthers responded by putting the competition out of reach. In the final 2:48 of the third, Saratoga scored 11 points while holding the Miners to 4.
The third quarter ended with Saratoga up 43-32, and the final buzzer would sound with the Panthers comfortably astride a 58-40 advantage.
Williams said he was proud of Saratoga's inaugural game of 2017, but he noticed some vulnerabilities to shore up as well. "Fatigue is one of (the vulnerabilities)–that's an easy fix. And we definitely need to work on our blocking out and rebounding, but those are things we can do," Williams said.
On the positive side, Williams said senior Morgan Rempel "shot the ball better than he has all season." Juniors Colton Jones, and Gage Bartlett, the team's point guard, also turned in strong performances, according to Williams.
Logan Wells arcs the ball hoopward after making a penetrating run.
Saratoga will need good ball from all of its players in the coming road-trip weekend, which will feature a Jan. 13 game against Farson Eden, and a Jan. 14 matchup against Cokeville.
In addition to getting the Panthers back into shape, Williams said his team will be preparing a strategy to neutralize Lain Mitchelson, one of Farson's most versatile and dangerous players.
"What makes him so dangerous is, when he drives, he sees the floor really well and dishes (the ball) to the open man when we come to help," Williams said of Mitchelson. "All five guys are going to have to know where (Mitchelson) is on the floor at all times," the coach continued.
"Going into (Farson's) home gym, we're going to have to earn it. We have to be ready to play hard," Williams predicted. "I feel like we're the better team, overall, (though)," he said.