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Panthers advance with comeback win

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Thursday March 08, 2001

The St. Mary’s basketball team survived a scare in its first step toward a possible state championship on Tuesday, overcoming a five-point halftime deficit against Valley Christian to win 74-63. 

The first-round CIF Northern California Section game took place in a packed house at St. Mary’s, but the visiting Warriors, the lowest seed in the region, used a scorching 24-12 second quarter to stun the crowd into silence going into halftime.  

“The last couple games, we’ve had really stinky second quarters,” St. Mary’s head coach Jose Caraballo said. “But it’s a game of four quarters, and the kids know how to respond.” 

Valley Christian held the lead until halfway through the fourth quarter, but St. Mary’s quickness and stamina were just too much in the end. Panther off-guard John Sharper scored 11 of his 21 points in the final period, including a steal and layup that gave his team the lead back. St. Mary’s never gave up the lead again. Point guard DaShawn Freeman scored 20 and forward Chase Moore 17 for the Panthers. 

The game went back an forth early, as the Panthers used transition baskets to grab an early 21-14 lead after one quarter. But Valley Christian’s Steve Cotton caught fire in the second, hitting three 3-pointers and scoring 15 points in the quarter just as the Panthers went cold, shooting just 5-of-17 from the floor. The Warriors used a 10-point run to grab the lead, and St. Mary’s couldn’t pull out of their slump. Their frustrations came to a head at the buzzer, as Moore’s desperation heave was rebounded by center Simon Knight, who was fouled. He headed to the charity stripe with no time on the clock, and proceeded to miss both free throws, leaving the score at 38-33. 

St. Mary’s head coach Jose Caraballo made a crucial change at halftime, pulling senior forward Jeremiah Fielder off of Valley Christian’s leading scorer, guard Marcus Martinez, and putting him on Cotton.  

“I told Jeremiah, ‘Don’t let (Cotton) get the ball.’ And he said, ‘Okay.’ He just did a great job on him in the second half,” Caraballo said. 

Fielder, who kept Martinez scoreless in the first half, limited Cotton’s second-half touches and held him to two points on 1-of-7 shooting. Cotton finished with 26 points, leading all scorers. 

“I saw that he was getting wide open, and I pride myself on my defense. So I asked to cover him at halftime,” Fielder said. 

Still, the best the Panthers could do in the third quarter was tie the game at 48-48. Martinez made up for Cotton’s disappearance, scoring eight points in the quarter, and the Warriors finished the period with a 7-2 run by breaking the St. Mary’s press for easy baskets.  

Both teams had seven team fouls heading into the fourth quarter, meaning every personal foul would send the other team to the free-throw line. The teams combined to shoot 35 freebies in the final period, and the Panthers were shaky, hitting just 10-of-21. But their relentless defensive pressure started to wear on the Warriors, who used a seven-man rotation until the final seconds. The visitors didn’t make a single field goal in the quarter, and had no counter for Sharper’s penetration. After he gave his team the lead, Sharper followed up with a three-point play. The Panthers started to pull away, taking a six-point lead with two minutes left on two Fielder free throws, and Valley Christian couldn’t come up with any good shots as time ran out. 

“My kids are strongest at the end of the game, and they know how to finish,” Caraballo said. “They have character, they persevere and they know how to win.”