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A tale of two halves: Panthers come back, pounce on Toronto in season opener

TIGHT QUARTERS — Buckeye Local’s Cameron Best drives the paint to attempt a shot in front of Toronto’s Shane Keenan and Blake Close and the Panthers Gavin Romanyak during Saturday’s game inside the George J. Kunzler Memorial Gymnasium. - Andrew Grimm

TORONTO — It is often said that a team will show signs of improvement from game one to game two. Saturday night, Buckeye Local made leaps and bounds from one half of basketball to the next.

After host Toronto opened a seven-point lead in the first, led by double figures before halftime and carried a nine-point advantage to the break, the Panthers upped the pressure in the second half and mounted a comeback to win what was the season opener for both teams, 41-39.

“We just hunkered down a little bit more and got after it,” Buckeye Local head coach Chris Heaton said of the difference between the first and second halves. “We started pressuring the ball, started getting up in the passing lanes and it paid off for us.

“We just ramped up the pressure. We came out a little bit flat … I think it took a minute for them to get in the swing of things.”

Luke Darrah, a senior who missed all of football season with an injury, netted five of his seven points in the fourth quarter. The last two, a putback with more than a minute to go, proved to be the difference as the Panthers defense held tough the rest of the way to make the narrow lead stand up.

“You feel bad for the kid because he missed his whole senior football season, so it was good to see something positive happen for him,” Heaton said. “I’m proud of all our guys and the effort they put forth.

“Overall, we’re very pleased to get out of here with a win.”

Leading the way was Cameron Best, netting a team-high 14 points.

“It was a hard-earned 14 points,” Heaton said. “I told him before the game I thought they were going to put Tanner Ensell on him, and they did, my hat’s off to that kid because he really gave Cam fits. But Cam is a tough kid and he really took control of the game and let the game come to him a little bit more.”

Led by 15 first-quarter points from senior Shane Keenan, the Red Knights opened a 16-7 lead after one.

However, Toronto did not score double figures in a quarter again after that and Keenan was held to eight points the rest of the way.

“We started four seniors and one sophomore, I’ve said it before, we’re a very young team,” Toronto head coach Sean Tucker said. “Our guys fought very, very hard. I’m really proud of them. We gave a valiant effort. It just comes down to experience.

“At the end of the game, we’ve got four sophomores on the floor and one senior and had a couple mental breakdowns. That is going to happen when you’ve got young guys on the floor. These sophomores are going to be really good the more and more experience they get.

“Being in a battle like that is going to very beneficial for them. You can’t recreate that in practice.”

Buckeye sunk a late basket just before the first half ended to cut the deficit, which had swelled to 11, down to single digits at the break, then trimmed it further in the third quarter, trailing by just five at 30-25 after three.

The Panthers best offensive output of the game came in the fourth when they netted 16 points. Buckeye Local took its first lead of the game, 36-35, with 4:27 to go on a Brayden Walker bucket off an offensive rebound.

It led by as many as four, which came after a Best 3-pointer swished the net with 3:05 to go to make it 39-35.

After the Darrah bucket broke a 39-39 tie, the Panthers managed to keep the pressure on the Knights without fouling until a turnover allowed them to run out the clock, Best taking an in-bound pass and retreating away from everyone to dribble out the final seconds.

“That was a heads-up play by Cam … that was probably one of the smarter plays that I’ve seen in the four years I’ve been here,” Heaton said. “(The defensive effort in the final minute) was everything we’ve been preaching since Day 1. It was stifling, pressure defense. We’ve been in that position offensively, we know how much it can bother a high school kid handling the basketball.

“Not fouling them was the big thing.”

Keenan, to go with his game-high 23 points, also pulled down 10 boards for a double-double. Nolan Dickinson and Blake Close each netted eight points for the Knights, while Cayden Benton pulled down seven boards off the bench.

“Shane did a fantastic job tonight,” Tucker said. “Tanner Ensell might be one of the best defenders in the Valley by the time he’s a senior. He had a tall task guarding Cam Best and he did a great job.

“We had some good looks at the bucket, the shots just didn’t fall. That is going to come with more rhythm and more confidence. If you look back to where we were June 1, we’ve come leaps and bounds.”

On top of Best’s 14 and Darrah’s seven, the Panthers efforts were aided by Hunter Darrah, Walker and Ethan McHugh with six points each. Luke Darrah finished with five boards, while Walker pulled down seven and dished four assists.

JAYVEE ACTION

Toronto pulled ahead in a back-and-forth jayvee contest for a 47-38 win. Jayce Nett topped the Red Knights with 14 points, while Buckeye Local’s Caiden McCutcheon had a game-high 17.

UP NEXT

Buckeye Local: Will look to have a good week of practice to prepare to host Shadyside in the home-opener on Friday night.

Toronto: Will be looking to bounce back on Tuesday when the Red Knights travel to River.

Buckeye Local 41, Toronto 39

Buckeye Local 9-5-11-16 – 41

Toronto 16-7-7-9 – 39

BUCKEYE LOCAL (1-0): McHugh 3 0-0 6; Romanyak 1 0-0 2; Walker 2 1-2 6; Best 6 1-2 14; L. Darrah 3 1-1 7; Dietch 0 0-0 0; H. Darrah 3 0-0 6; Chandler 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 18, 3-5; 41.

TORONTO (0-1): Dickinson 3 0-0 8; Karaffa 0 0-0 0; Ensell 0 0-0 0; Close 2 4-7 8; Keenan 9 2-4 23; Benton 0 0-2 0. TOTALS 14, 6-13; 39.

3-POINT GOALS: Buckeye Local 2 (Best, Walker); Toronto 5 (Keenan 3, Dickinson 2). ASSISTS: Buckeye Local 12 (Walker 4); Toronto 9 (Close 4). REBOUNDS: Buckeye Local 25 (Walker 7); Toronto 25 (Keenan 10). TURNOVERS: Buckeye Local 12; Toronto 14.

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