This has been a tough season for North. But this week was the best week for North to add one to the win column as they had 3 league games – all against CCC teams who were struggling as well. So it was a busy week and when equally matched teams play, it can lead to exciting games. And 2 of North's games this week were decided by just 2 points. So there was 4th quarter drama as well.
The Ansonia game was a fierce battle with 16 lead changes. North had problems hitting their shots on the road as they only shot 27% from the field. Still they kept the game tight. With seconds left in the game North caught up to Ansonia due to 2 Zach Edgin free throws only to see them go the length of court and execute a pick and roll for the lead with 5 seconds left. North had no time outs left and hastily tried to inbound the ball and get off a desperate shot. They threw up a shot from midcourt, it did hit iron – but bounced away. And so Ansonia was able to post a 47-45 win. It was the hard luck Panther's 6th game decided by 5 points or less.
But the Panthers did not have much time to nurse their wounds as they had to play Bradford next. Both teams were fighting to stay out of the basement of the league. But this game found North in an unfamiliar position – playing with double digit lead. Bradford opened in a 2-3 zone and North took advantage as Damon Nelson and Garrett Woodyard connected on 3 point shots to give North an early lead. And when they put more pressure on the wings, Kurt Brinson began to score in the paint – he would score 16 of his 22 points in the first half.
So at halftime North had a comfortable 29-13 lead. But the Railroaders went to work in the 2nd half and began to chip away at the North lead. They began driving to the basket to score. North had been playing a 1-3-1 zone and switched to a 2-3 zone to put more bodies in the paint. But offensively North got a little sloppy with the ball and gave up some turnovers. Bradford started the second half with a 9-2 run and when the last quarter started the lead had shrunk to 10 points, 40-30.
At the 4 minute mark the Railroaders had the lead down to 6 points and North was having a rough time making their shots. But defensively the Panthers were making plays. With about a minute and a half left in the game Bradford began fouling. And on the next 4 Panther possessions it was senior Zach Edgin who was their target. On this night Bradford picked on the wrong person as Edgin coolly sank 7 of 8 chances to keep the Panthers ahead. With seconds left, Bradford scored to make it a 2 point game, but the Panthers were able to keep the lead and the ball as time expired for a thrilling 53-51 win.
“We started out playing well and had a nice lead,” stated coach Spitler after the game, “They clawed back into it and made for an interesting finish. I am glad that we hit those free throws at the end to hang on. Zach Edgin was clutch in the 4th quarter. Brinson scored well for us and rebounded well. Woodyard had 10 points. I was happy to get this win – it took awhile to get it, but it feels good.”
The Panthers finished their week against National Trail whom they had beaten earlier in the season. Maybe the team was mentally and physically exhausted from playing their 3rd game in a week, but the Panthers could not figure out the Blazers. It seemed like the team used up all their shots the night before against Bradford. They did not score in double figures in any single quarter.
The game was close at halftime 22-16 in favor of Trail. But the Panthers were cold coming out of the locker room while the Blazers caught fire and built a double digit lead that they were able to ride out to the end of the game. The Blazers were able to avenge their earlier loss with a 43-30 win.
Next week will be a battle of the Panthers as North hosts South on Friday night to close out the regular season. The two teams met earlier in the season at Shawnee's holiday tournament where South won 56-52.