The South Iron Panthers had a wild week. One that had to wreak havoc on the emotional core of the players, coaches and fans alike.
On Tuesday the Panthers took on a very talented 22-3 Steelville team, and the two sides battled all the way to double overtime, but the Panthers ultimately fell 85-80. Then, three days later, they traveled to Festus and took on a Class 5 powerhouse. This one looked grim as well, but despite trailing by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, South Iron rallied and forced OT, only to win it 78-75 in the extra frame.
But let’s start at the beginning. On Valentine’s Day, the Panthers hosted the Steelville Cardinals, and both teams knew this was going to be a battle from the start. The Cardinals took an early 18-16 lead after the first eight minutes, but the home team rebounded in the second. They put up 22, and managed to keep Steelville somewhat at bay with 18, giving them the slimmest of leads at the half. Heading into the locker room, the Panthers carried a 38-36 advantage.
After the break, the Cardinals came out buzzing. They pressed and frustrated the Panther offense, winning the third-quarter battle 19-10. South Iron was not to be outdone in regulation though. The Panthers clawed back in the fourth and managed to tie the game before time expired. They put up 19 to the Cardinals’ 12 and were able to force overtime.
Then in the extra period, both teams were a bit tentative, and held possession like it was the Hope Diamond. Each team scored just seven points, and both squads would be forced to do it all over again. Then, in the second OT, South Iron didn’t have an answer to stopping the Steelville attack, and once they were behind, they were forced to foul. The Cardinals put up 11 and the Panthers could muster just six, leading to a gut-wrenching 85-80 loss.
On the bright side, the offense was about as dispersed as one could imagine, with every Panther that made a basket finishing in double-digits. The Burse boys paced the scoring with 15 apiece, as Jermartez added six rebounds, three steals and four assists to his total, while Jermarquis had five boards, three assists and went 5-of-6 from the line. Gabe Ruble and Sawyer Huff each had 14, Kolton Dinkins had 12 and William Malone had 10.
It was a tough loss, but the Panthers would channel that disappointment and turn it into energy for their next highly-anticipated contest. On Friday they would travel to Festus to take on a very talented Tigers team from a much, much larger school district.
The game started off tight, but Festus would have the edge for the majority of it. Despite a trio of three-pointers from Ruble, the Panthers found themselves trailing 21-19 after the first. They wouldn’t be able to make up any ground in the second either, as both teams struggled offensively. But the 12-9 Festus advantage was still enough to dig the hole a little deeper for South Iron. They trailed by five points at the break, but Festus had all the momentum.
Things would get worse before they got better after the halftime pause, as the Tigers came out fast once again. This time it was a 23-18 advantage that snake-bit South Iron. Despite eight points from Dinkins and five from ‘Tez Burse, the Panthers found themselves in a double-digit dilemma with just eight minutes left to play.
Then the fourth quarter happened. ‘Tez Burse and Dinkins both hit big threes and helped revive a struggling Panther offense, and despite some close calls, they were able to put up 17 to Festus’ seven and tie the game. The Tigers had a chance to ice it in the waining seconds, but strong defending for South Iron prevailed and they were able to force the extra frame.
Thankfully, that momentum carried over into bonus time. It was a back and forth battle, but the Panthers struck first with a big ‘Tez Burse three to take the lead and break the 63-63 tie. Then after a couple of buckets by Huff and ‘Quis Burse, the Panthers enjoyed a four-point cushion. The Tigers were constantly fouling to stay in the game, but South Iron was nearly perfect from the line to hold Festus down.
The Tigers had a couple desperation threes in the final few seconds, but came up short and South Iron got some vindication with an overtime win of their own.
‘Tez Burse was a monster in this one with 33 points to lead all scorers in the game. He also picked up six rebounds, four assists and made an impressive 10-of-14 from the line. ‘Quis Burse was the only other player in double figures with 11, but there were contributions across the board in this one. Huff, Dinkins and Ruble each had nine points, but Huff’s boxscore really stood out with eight boards, five assists and three steals (all which led the team).
Post Game Interview with Dusty Dinkins on Streamline Sports.
It was a nice way to close out the regular season for the Panthers, and gave them the luxury of heading into the Class 1 District 3 Tournament on a high note.