Panthers starting to pass road tests


COLORADO SPRINGS - Rarely in recent years has the Woodland Park boys basketball team found itself in a position to win late in games. But a Jan. 31 Class 4A Metro Leaguer thriller at Coronado proved otherwise.

The Panthers held a four-point advantage (46-42) with 3:20 remaining in the fourth quarter following a Sam Hopfe jumper in the lane. The score was tied at 48-48 with less than a minute remaining after a put back by Hopfe. Those were the only baskets of the game for the sophomore reserve center.

And even though Coronado eventually pulled out a 54-48 victory, the Panthers proved to themselves and the Woodland Park faithful that better times are ahead.

“We finally figured out how to play on the road,” said Woodland Park senior shooting guard Evan Lays. “We did what we set out to do. Execute. We definitely came out and worked hard.”

Lays finished with seven points, including a pair of 3-point baskets in the third quarter as the Panthers erased an eight-point halftime deficit to knot the score at 39-39 heading into the wild fourth.

“We just wanted it,” said Woodland Park senior forward Jacob Censner, who scored a game-high 19 points. We have a new competitiveness and things are starting click. This is the best road game we've played in my four years of high school.”

Censner was large and in charge in the second half. His 3-pointer at the 3:05 mark of the third quarter pulled the Panthers within 35-34. Two minutes later, Woodland Park sophomore swingman Dakota Herman drained a 15-foot jumper and a long 3-pointer to stake the Panthers to a 39-35 lead.

Woodland Park fell behind 42-40 two minutes into the fourth quarter, but Censner made good on back-to-back layups to put Woodland Park back on top.

“We wanted this win so bad; we wanted to so much,” Censer said. “In the end we were probably trying too hard and it bit us in the butt.”

Coronado 6-foot-4 senior power forward Titus Rice was the most talented player on the court, and he proved why when the game was on the line. He scored 10 of Coronado's 15 fourth-quarter points - all of them within a few feet of the bucket or at the free throw line.

Rice was held in check the first three quarters, scoring just four points as Cody Westfall and Herman smothered him.

“They were playing pretty good `D,'” Rice said. “I wasn't adjusting.”

Coronado's leading scorer was senior power forward Trey Vaughn, who had 10 of his 16 points in the first half.

Woodland Park coach Joel Herman was pleased with his team's effort.

“We should be able to play with anybody in our league - and beat them,” the first-year coach said. “Tonight the boys showed a lot of heart.”

The Panthers ran into a tough match-up on Feb. 2 when they hosted Wasson (16-1, 8-0) at home. The Thunderbirds won the game, 70-35. Woodland Park trailed just 27-16 at halftime.

“We had to make some adjustments,” said Wasson coach Damion Copeland. “You have to give (Woodland Park) credit. They battled. They played hard.”

Wasson senior guard Dominic Garcia put his team on his shoulders in the fourth quarter, scoring 23 of the Thunderbirds' 26 points, including five 3-pointers. He finished with 34 points.

Lays had 12 points to lead Woodland Park, while Censner finished with nine.    

The final score was a sharp contrast from the first time the clubs met on Jan. 10, when Wasson cruised to a 65-point win.

Woodland Park is 6-11 overall, 2-6 in league play. The Panthers have games this week against Harrison and Sierra. The top five teams in league earn automatic playoff berths.

If the Panthers hope to get one of those final spots, they will have to do so without the services of point guard Marc Cannella. The gritty senior tore his left ACL and meniscus in a game against Mesa Ridge on Jan. 22 and is out for the season. He has surgery scheduled for Jan. 14.

“I was taking off for a layup and that's when it happened,” Cannella said.

Senior Nate Longoria has assumed Cannella's starting role. He is spelled by senior Josh Stover.

“We've all played together since seventh grade and we have a lot of chemistry,” Longoria said. “The easiest thing for me to do is get it to the guys so they can hit it.”


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