Buzzer-beater ends Middle Park playoff run. Still: proud Panthers
For Sky-Hi News
In the game of basketball, there are few moments sweeter for a player than nailing a last-second shot for the win.
For the team on the other side of any scoreboard, an abrupt ending isn’t exactly enjoyable. But even with the heartbreaking buzzer-beater that wrapped up the winter, Middle Park High School athletes are still holding heads high.
Panther boys basketball ended their season 18-4 with a loss during against Manitou Springs in March 4’s Round of 32 regional games. The victory came down to the final seconds as the Mustangs broke the tie that would have sent the match into overtime with a three-point jumper from the wing just before the horn.
“They executed a nice play, the kid made a big-time shot from the wing, and we lost by three,” said Middle Park coach Todd Williams.
The 54-51 final was indicative of the energy of the night, Williams said, noting that Manitou came to play.
“We took the lead at two different points in the fourth quarter, but it was a pretty close game all the way through,” he said. “They got up a little bit in the first half, but we came out and battled back in the second, had a really good third quarter.”
Williams said the Panthers had a “pretty balanced scoring attack,” led by juniors Corbin Solomon and Caden Hanson with 10 points apiece. Seniors Seth Holestine and Jackson Cimino added nine and eight points, respectively.
Besides a strong effort from players, Williams also appreciated the amount of fans who showed up in Loveland for the regional round.
“We had parents and students and community members who made the drive and that’s the excitement we all enjoyed this season,” he said.
Middle Park boys received a bit of schadenfreude the next day when Manitou fell 53-42 to hosting Resurrection Christian, with the No. 6 Cougars joining the other seven regional hosts in the 3A state quarterfinals.
Seeded 11th in the playoff field, the Panthers were looking to bring the regional event to their home gym, though the previous week’s district tournament on Feb. 25 and 26 proved tougher than planned.
Though they had swept through the rest of the 2A/3A Frontier League in the regular schedule — winning their first league title in nearly five decades—the top-seeded Middle Park cruised to the district finals after a 62-39 win over The Pinnacle only to fall 66-51 to The Academy.
Despite a personal best 22-point game for junior Brady Paugh against the Wildcats, early offensive struggles cost the team, trailing 18-4 after the first quarter.
“Academy played really well, shot it really well. We were struggling to shoot, especially in the first half. I think we shot 3 out of 34 in the first half. That was the biggest difference, since they weren’t missing shots,” Williams said. “At one point, I think we were down about 27 or 28 points. We came back in the fourth quarter but couldn’t quite overcome that deficit.”
Holestine was frustrated with the losses at districts and regionals—their first defeats since mid-January—though he took them in stride.
“It was unfortunate for sure because I thought we had it, but it just went the other way. Sometimes that happens,” he said of the Manitou loss. “We definitely should have won both of those games, but you just have to accept it.”
Williams said that while he’d hoped the team’s seniors would be able to see the later stages of the state championships, he’s pleased younger players made it this far.
“Just being able to experience the postseason and being in a district title game and following that up with a really tight regional game, that’s experience that you can only get by doing it. You have to be there and be in those games and learn from them,” he said. “Luckily, we have a lot of varsity players coming back who hopefully can build on that.”
For Holestine, a banner season in which he led the team in total points, three-pointers, steals and blocks won’t be his final go on the court: during winter break he signed his letter of intent to compete at Kansas’s Southwestern College.
With a goal of eventually attending law school, he has yet to declare a major, though he’s ready for the challenge of college athletics.
“It’s definitely a lot faster pace and everyone will be better,” Holestine said.
Williams said he wasn’t surprised that Holestine will be moving on to that level.
“It’s a product of the work and the effort that he’s put in. It’s great when you can see somebody who’s dedicated that time, achieved that goal, and gotten that goal to play at the next level,” he said. “It’ll be fun to see him go onto that, and I’m sure he’ll have a great career for them.”
Though he was also big on soccer in prior years, Holestine said basketball has been his main focus while at Middle Park.
“I’ve played since I was like five years old, but I really fell in love with it again at the beginning of high school, and I wanted to go to college for that. That was my big goal,” he said. “I feel like as a team we grew a lot, and it opened up a lot of opportunities for all of us. I just tried to do what I could. The whole team had really good chemistry.”
Holestine said that achieving a conference championship was great as was the newfound clout among Frontier teams, though the big highlight of the year was being able to mesh as a group better than ever before under Williams’ leadership.
“Last summer, we talked a lot about becoming a brotherhood and building a culture that will last. I feel like we accomplished that by following our coach this year,” he said. “I think that’s the most important thing we did this year.”
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