Impressive 21-5 Panther record
The Park City Panthers represented Stillwater County well at the Class C State Basketball Tournament last weekend.
As one of only two unranked teams to make it to state, Park City entered the tournament as an underdog, and the team knew it would have to compete at a high level to find success.
The Panthers opened with a game against the Fairview Warriors, the eighth-ranked team in the state at the end of the regular season.
Both teams started out slow, neither scoring in the first minute of play. Once the shots started to fall, both defenses worked hard and kept the offenses in check. At the end of the first quarter, Park City had an 11-10 lead.
In the second quarter, the Panther offense finally found a rhythm, led by seniors Rylan Gauthier and Talon Johnstone. Park City was able to build a lead as the Panther defense played tough, and the Warrior shots would not fall. By halftime, Park City was up 26-13, after outscoring Fairview 15-3 in the second quarter.
Coming out of half, the Warriors started hitting shots, but the Panthers were able to maintain a lead ranging from six to 11 points. At the end of the third quarter, though, Fairview hit a couple quick shots to come back into the game. The Park City lead at the end of the third quarter shrunk to three points, 36-33. The Warriors outscored the Panthers 20-10 in the third.
The fourth quarter was a battle. Park City was able to hold the slight lead at first, but with about three minutes left in the game, Fairview took the lead, 40-39. The next two minutes were very close, and with about one minute remaining, the score was tied at 44.
After scoring a field goal to give the Panthers the lead, junior Connor McNeil was able to steal the ball with about 30 seconds left, getting the ball to Gauthier who then added two free throws to extend the lead to four points. Johnstone blocked a Warrior shot with about 10 seconds left and was able to sink two free throws to ensure the 50-44 Park City victory.
The Panthers did a good job of staying calm and composed after losing a good-sized lead in the third quarter.
Free throws played an important role in the Park City victory. Gauthier made 14 of 15 attempts from the charity stripe. He also led the team in overall scoring, with 26 points. Both McNeil and Johnstone contributed eight, and junior Austin Popp contributed six.
The win over Fairview was Park City’s second win against a ranked opponent in three games.
Thursday’s victory sent the Panthers to the semifinals to face the Manhattan Christian Eagles Friday night. The Eagles were the number four ranked Class C team in the regular season.
The Eagles scored fast, but Park City did not panic, and the Panthers battled back. At the end of the first period, Manhattan Christian held the lead, 11-9.
In the first minutes of the second quarter, Park City tied the game and kept it close when the Eagles regained the lead. About halfway through the quarter, though, Manhattan Christian scored a couple shots quickly and took advantage of Panther miscues to extend the lead.
At the end of the first half, the Panthers had three starters temporarily out of the game – McNeil and Popp due to foul trouble, and junior Tristen Johnstone because of injury (he would return). Park City began to play at a faster pace, but turnovers and mistakes followed as Panther shots failed to fall. The Eagles seized the opportunity, and going into halftime, Manhattan Christian held the 30-16 lead.
In the second half, Park City never found a rhythm, and the shots would not fall in their favor. The Eagles continued to make their shots and add to the lead. Park City lost the game, 74-50.
Gauthier led the team with 13 points, followed by sophomore Caleb Van Doren with 10. McNeil and Talon Johnstone scored nine a piece.
The loss bumped the Panthers to a loser-out game against the Melstone Broncs, the third-ranked team in the state. The two teams faced off in the Southern Divisional semifinals, and Park City came away with a hard-fought two-point win.
Saturday’s game began close, and Talon Johnstone did a good job of keeping the Panthers in the game offensively. At the end of the first quarter, the Broncs held the 18-14 lead. During the second, Melstone was able to extend the lead as the Park City offense struggled to find a rhythm and get shots to fall. At halftime, the Broncs led 33-23.
Both offenses came out of the break slow, and entering the final minutes of the game, Melstone still had a nine-point lead, 39-30. However, the Panthers were determined to not allow their season to end in such a way.
Park City battled back in the fourth quarter. Some key shots by Gauthier, Talon Johnstone, and sophomore Garrett McMillen brought the game within one point with 3:30 left to play. The Broncs were able to stay only one or two points ahead of the Panthers, and with 30 seconds remaining, Melstone missed a free throw and the Panthers came down with the rebound, trailing 51-10. Unfortunately, a traveling call turned the ball over to the Broncs, and Melstone was able to make one free throw to go up by two points.
With about 15 seconds left in the game, Popp made one free throw to cut the Bronc lead to one point, again. Melstone answered with one free throw, and with six seconds left, Park City had the ball, down 53-51. Following a timeout, McNeil’s 12-foot buzzer-beater jump shot from the baseline was barely long, stopping the Panthers’ comeback just short. Melstone won the game, 53-51.
The loss put an end to Park City’s season. Melstone went on to win the consolation game for third place.
Talon Johnstone led the team in his final game as a Panther with 18 points. McNeil had 12, and Gauthier scored nine points.
The Panthers accomplished a lot this year. They ended the season with an impressive 21-5 record. Park City won a divisional title for the first time in 30 years, and they advanced to the state tournament for the first time in 12 years. The Panthers beat two highly ranked teams in the postseason, one of them almost twice.