The Saratoga Sun -

Three days in Thermopolis

Panther netters get big win, big loss and big comeback in Shoshoni-hosted tourney


The Saratoga Panthers boys’ basketball team did not go gentle into that good winter break. The Panthers fought and clawed for two victories in three days of games, sandwiching a loss to top-ranked Burlington between wins against Riverside and Dubois.

“We came out strong against Riverside and played well,” coach Jason Williams said of the weekend’s opening match-up Dec. 15. The Panthers more than doubled the opposition’s score in the game, winning 59-26.

Williams credited the decisive victory to his team’s strong concentration and sure-handed offensive execution. “(The Panthers) were able to keep our level of play high for the whole game,” Williams said of the team’s strong introductory salvo to three days of basketball in Thermopolis.

“Burlington (though) was the exact opposite. We came out sloppy,” Williams said. Against one of the toughest teams in the division, Saratoga had the tables turned, losing 59-24 Dec. 16.

Burlington finished last year ranked number one in their conference, and will certainly count among the toughest opponents the Panthers face this year. Despite the Huskies’ impressive track record, Williams would have liked to have seen crisper play from his own netters.

“What we had done well against Riverside we did poorly against Burlington,” he said. In the Panthers second day of play, “We’d have a guy open on offense, and by the time we passed him the ball, he wasn’t open any more,” Williams noted. He said the team lacked pop and intensity during that game and appeared “a little confused” at moments.

Any confusion had dissipated by day three of the Shoshoni-hosted tournament. Dec. 17, Saratoga squared-off against the Dubois Rams and walked away with what, on-paper, looked like an easy win, outscoring the Rams by a dozen points, 67-55.

In Williams’ telling, the final game of the tournament wasn’t so easy. Though the Panthers went into the locker room up at half, by the end of the third quarter they had sacrificed that lead and were down going into the endgame.

“We really came back,” William said, explaining, “We got a lot of steals and started denying their best players the basketball.” Putting more than 20 points on the board, junior point guard Gage Bartlett also had an outsize impact in the comeback. By locking down Dubois’ top threats and generating momentum-killing turnovers, the Panthers were able to swing the game in their favor and go into the break with a win streak.

In the interim, Williams said his team will enjoy a little time off and heal-up. Senior post Max Schneider was nursing a turned-ankle while playing in Thermopolis, and Williams said he hoped the rest will help his athletes rebound to better form.

“The toughest part about break is losing conditioning,” Williams said, but the team will have a few practices to prevent the athletes from packing on too many holiday pounds.

The Panthers’ next game is Jan. 7 against Hanna-Elk Mountain (HEM), but the stakes really get high the week after.

“The meat of our season starts in January when we start to have conference games,” Williams said. The first of those will be a Jan. 13 match-up against Farson-Eden, but for now the Panthers are just resting up, preparing for HEM and savoring a the taste of victory during the holiday gap.


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