CORTLANDT MANOR – For the better part of three quarters, Panas ran circles around John Jay-East Fishkill.
And while the Panthers suffered another dizzy spell down the stretch, they made just enough plays to hold on to a 58-49 win over another quality opponent.
This youth movement is gaining momentum.
“I feel like our strong starts are the reason why we win games,” freshman point guard Sofia Tavarez said. “That’s when we all feel the most energized.”
Keeping up was an issue for the Patriots.
Tavarez and Cadence Nicholas were in attack mode right off the jump and Panas took a 36-20 lead after Kelsey Cregan drained a jumper ahead of the halftime buzzer.
“Once we get up a little we feel more confident, like we just have to play our game,” said Nicholas, who’s also just a freshman.
The Panthers were giving up inches at every position.
“I just thinking about drawing more fouls and shooting more free throws when I saw how big they were,” Tavarez said. “We kept on driving in against them. I could tell they were getting upset.”
At the intermission, John Jay coach Larry Brooks went back over now familiar points of emphasis.
“They jumped on us early, made a lot of big shots,” he said. “Being down like that at the half is tough. I give them all the credit in the world. That’s a well-coached team that is going to make some noise moving forward. … We’ve put ourselves in that situation a couple of times this year, though. I’m trying to tell my team, losses can be a good thing if we learn from them. We can’t be in a situation where we’re down 16-18 points. Good teams are never going to let you come back from there and tonight is a prime example. We had to work really hard just to lose by nine.”
Cregan pulled a rebound in through a thicket of arms. Tavarez collected the outlet in stride and pushed up the court, finding Nicholas for a corner 3 that gave Panas a 31-17 lead with 3:05 to play in the second quarter.
It was textbook transition.
Katie Hoffmann, another freshman, hit from behind the arc to extend the lead, but Grace Kennedy answered with 57 seconds to go in the half. That spark was quickly extinguished when Cregan finished a well-run set with a 14-footer at the buzzer.
Panas did get a little too fast in the fourth quarter, allowing the Patriots to get within 11 with three minutes to play, but Nicholas managed just enough offense and Julia Gallinger came off the bench with two huge deflections to short-circuit the rally.
“We talked about it in every timeout, ‘We don’t need to take the first shot,’ but that is not their mentality,” Panthers coach Matt Evangelista said. “We’re an attacking team, but they’re learning.”
Players of the game
They’re good individually, but Tavarez and Nicholas are better in tandem.
“We’ve been playing together since like third grade and we’re best friends so it’s easy for us to be together on the court,” Nicholas said.
By the numbers
John Jay (11-3): Ashley Burogas had some early foul trouble, but was a force inside once the Patriots got back to doing what they do best, finishing with 13 points and 12 rebounds. ... Kennedy had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists. ... Stephanie Jean Baptiste had six points.
Panas (13-1): Nicholas had 29 points and Tavarez finished with nine points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals. ... Hoffmann got nine points, as well, all on 3s. ... Cregan added six points and 12 rebounds.
"We had timeouts, but I’m not always going to be in that boat, so tonight I wanted to see what (Tavarez and Nicholas) would do," Evangelista said. "They have obviously played a lot of basketball in their lives and are really basketball intelligent."
Mike Dougherty covers boys soccer, boys lacrosse, girls basketball and golf for The Journal News/lohud.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @hoopsmbd, @lohudlacrosse, @lohudhoopsmbd and @lohudgolf.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Girls basketball: Panas hangs on for a win over John Jay-East Fishkill