The Saratoga Panthers had a grueling schedule last week. The Panthers faced off against the North Park Wildcats Tuesday, traveled to Hanna for a match against the Hanna-Elk Mountain (HEM) Miners Friday, then topped off the week with an away conference game against longtime rivals Little Snake River.
A win versus North Park
The North Park Wildcats drew first blood in their game in the Saratoga Tuesday night but it was the home team Panthers who ran away with the game.
Though the game started off with a 2-4 Wildcat lead, the Panthers had a 14-10 lead after the first quarter. It was a lead the Panthers would build on for the majority of the game.
By halftime, Saratoga had the game well in hand leading 33-19. At the end of the third quarter the Panthers were cruising 48-30 and, though the Wildcats would make a push, the Panthers managed to extend their lead in the final quarter for a 70-38 win.
Coach Jason Williams contributed the win to two components saying, "Our defense and rebounding really was the key to the game-everything then kind of flowed from that."
Sam Schneider exemplified the glass cleaning by grabbing 16 total rebounds to go along with 3 steals and 3 blocks.
Scoring seemed to be no problem for the Panthers either. "Some of the guys stepped up to help Gage (Bartlett) ... we had three guys in double figures," Williams said, "Gage is a phenomenal player but the rest of the guys have to contribute too and I felt our guys did that last night."
The three players in double figures were Sam Schneider (20 points on 8 for 13 shooting including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc), Gage Bartlett (21 points on 9 for 16 shooting) and Logan Seahorn (12 points on 4 of 6 shooting including two treys).
The Panthers also excelled at the line making 13 of 17 attempts for a team 76% free throw percentage.
A "W" in Hanna
According to Williams, the Panthers started the game in Hanna "playing hard and with a lot of energy."
Of the positives from the game, Williams credited the Panthers' "fast start in the game-something we had struggled with-and then hitting the free throws down the stretch to seal the game."
After one quarter the Panthers led the Miners 22-12. That effort continued in the second quarter and made for a 34-22 lead for the Panthers at the half.
In the second half the Miners made their run and after three quarters the Panthers held a slim 7-point margin with a score of 45-38.
"We were allowing penetration and we weren't getting back down the floor," the coach said of the comeback, "We just kind of quit playing the way that got us the lead. Hanna is well-coached and they took advantage of it."
On Hanna's Senior night, the home team was not to be discounted and the Miners made a run to come back to within three or four toward the end-but Saratoga was able to hit free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
At the end, the Panthers emerged victorious with a final score of 64-57.
Gage Bartlett, the leading scorer in the state for 1A boys, hit a respectable 50% on 2-point field goals while glass-cleaning duties were shared by Colton Jones who grabbed 10 boards and Ben Fairbanks who gathered 11 caroms.
Rattled in the Little Snake River Valley
The Panthers' fortunes took a turn for the worse in their Saturday game in Baggs.
Of his opponent, Williams showed respect by commenting, "It's a team we pretty much have to play our best game to beat them."
Apparently the team was up to the task in the first quarter when the Panthers were putting up a fight and finished the quarter down two 11-13.
Coach Williams summed up the first half saying, "We started pretty well and it was a five point game at halftime."
In the third quarter, the Rattlers grew the spread. "They kind of slowly pulled away from us," Williams said, "it wasn't really a game of runs like some games can be." The upshot was that the Rattlers led the Panthers 32-44 after three quarters.
In the fourth quarter the Panthers would show some life though.
"With about two minutes left, it was an 8-point game and that's when we started going man-to man," Williams said, "I told the boys we needed to start taking some chances-we got to get the ball back, they are going to just run it out. They hit their free throws and it didn't work out. But we were right in it in the end and that tells me some of the guys were starting to step up."
The game ended with the Panthers on the losing side 42-54.
The Panthers will travel to play Kaycee at noon on Friday, Feb. 17 only to return to finish the regular season against Valley neighbors the Encampment Tigers the next day with games starting at 5 p.m. in Saratoga.
Coach Williams says Saratoga and Encampment are locked in to play in a pigtail game to get into the playoffs and that the winner of Saturday's game will host that game Monday.