Panthers experience set back at the wrong time
GLADWIN — Gladwin rediscovered its "mojo" just in time, and Standish-Sterling never quite got on track.
The Panthers' season ended in Wednesday's Class B district semifinal, at Beaverton, with a 64-41 loss to the Flying G's; who looked more like the team they were through the first two-thirds of the season than the squad that struggled down the stretch.
Gladwin bolted out to an 18-8 lead after the first quarter, and while the Panthers were able to cut the deficit to two points early in the fourth, they couldn't make the plays they needed down the stretch to finish off the comeback.
"I thought we were in pretty good shape coming in," said SSC coach Tom Murray. "But offensively we were really never there. We hung in there defensively, but we had no continuity on offense."
At least some of that lack of continuity, Murray said, could be attributed to the season-long lack of continuity in his team's lineup. Though the Panthers were as healthy as they'd been all season, the injuries that cost most of their guards significant chunks of the season didn't allow the team to develop as Murray had hoped.
"There wasn't any continuity all year," he said. "We got rushed (against Gladwin), and that's a sign of that.
"Gladwin played very well, too. The difference really was the experience level of their guards. (Chris) Smalley and (James) Hang have been there it seems like forever."
Hang and Smalley both played significant minutes as sophomores two years ago when SSC topped Gladwin in the 2007 district title game. Smalley had 15 and Hang 10, but it was a Ryan Beaudoing that did the most damage, drawing fouls by the bushel and scoring 16 points to lead the Flying G's.
"(Beaudoing) played very well," Murray said. "That's what you need at this time of year. Everyone knows about Smalley and Hang, but you need that 'other' guy to step up."
The Panthers trailed 32-24 at the half, but Mark Lorence, Austin Collier and Cole Walderzak combined to score 19 points in the third quarter and cut the Gladwin lead to 49-45.
Smalley's trey early in the fourth quarter shifted the momentum back to the Flying G's, and he and Beaudoing combined to hit 8-of-10 free throws down the stretch to keep the Panthers at bay.
"We had plenty of opportunities," Murray said. "It's a little disappointing to have lost, but I'm proud of the kids. They played hard."
Collier led all scorers with 19 points, with Walderzak and Lorence adding 12 apiece.
The Panthers wrap up their season at 11-9, while Gladwin (14-8) takes on Ogemaw Heights in Friday's championship contest.