KNOX, Pa. – Building a big first-half lead can be both a blessing and a curse, as the Keystone Panthers nearly found out in their 54-50 victory over Clarion-Limestone in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs on Tuesday evening in Knox.
Keystone built a 24-point lead of 31-7 at one point in the first half before the Lions rallied to trail by just one point at 43-42 early in the fourth before solid free throw shooting helped the Panthers secure the win.
Bret Wingard paced Keystone with a double-double of 26 points and 14 rebounds. He also made 11-of-12 free throws, including a 5-for-5 effort from the line in the fourth quarter. Colin Say added 10 points for the Panthers.
“Bret stepped up big time for us tonight,” said Keystone head coach Greg Heath. “He knocked down his free throws, and he pulled down some big rebounds for us.”
After a slow start, Hayden Callen led C-L with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Callen went scoreless in the first quarter. Jordan Hesdon added nine points.
Keystone scored the first seven points of the game en route to a 17-6 lead after one quarter.
The Panthers continued their scoring onslaught with a 14-1 run over the first 4:30 of the quarter to take their largest lead of the game of 24 points at 31-7. The Lions then closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to cut the lead down to 16 by halftime at 34-18.
Keystone knocked down five three-pointers in the opening half shooting 62 percent from behind the arc while shooting 50 percent overall in the opening half.
“It isn’t just about the score in that first half,” said C-L head coach Joe Ferguson. “It was more of a case of us just not playing good basketball. We were making way too many turnovers which is something we hadn’t really been doing over these past few games. In the second half, we just came out and began playing our brand of basketball and were able to at least give ourselves a chance.”
C-L outscored Keystone 20-9, including a 9-0 run over the final 3:13 of the quarter to cut the lead down to five after three quarters making the score 43-38.
“I think the biggest part of the second half was that C-L just brought their A-game,” said Heath. “They didn’t play well in that first half, and I have to credit Joe and his kids for really playing well. They made that run on us, our shots weren’t falling, and the kids started to short-arm their shots a bit. We’ll take the win, that’s for sure, but based on our first two games, I knew that lead wasn’t safe, and I knew we were going to be in for a dogfight tonight.”
A pair of baskets by Callen and Riley Klingensmith cut the lead to one at 43-42 with 4:41 to play. Klingensmith had a chance to tie the game as he was fouled on his shot, but he missed the free throw. Wingard then made seven straight points for the Panthers to increase the lead to 50-42 with 1:51 to play.
Callen made 3-of-4 free throws surrounded by a missed Keystone freebie to trim the lead to 50-45 with 1:16 to play. Brandon Pierce made 1-of-2 free throws with 1:02 to play for a 51-45 lead. Callen knocked down a three-pointer with 45 seconds to play to cut the lead to three at 51-48, and the Lions even got a turnover following, but they turned it right back to the Panthers’ Wingard, who was fouled and made both free throws with 21 seconds remaining to essentially put the game away.
“In the second half, we came out and showed what we can do,” said Ferguson. “We ended up giving ourselves a chance which is all you can ask. I’m proud of our guys in that respect. I’m also sad this was our last game, especially for our seniors Hayden Callen, Hayden Siegel, and Braden Rankin. Those three guys played well as a team, and they’ve shown these other guys what it’s like and to pass the torch to the younger guys to try and keep the tradition going.”