BY NICK MUDD
PressBox 790 Sports Reporter
EWING — In a battle of the top two seeds of the boys Class 3 District 6 Tournament, it was No. 2 seed Palmyra coming out on top Friday night.
The Panthers claim their first district championship since 2014 with a thrilling 38-37 on Highland’s home court.
The Panthers’ head coach Ryan Wood had this to say about how his team’s performance:
“Our 1-3-1 (defense) saved us. It looked good last week here, and earlier this week. However, we struggled shooting the ball down the stretch. Every possession mattered tonight and that showed all the way to the last horn.”
Off the tip, Highland scored in the first possession of the game on a Cameron Bringer baseline driving layup.
Aaron Stamper would come back with an open straight away three-pointer to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead.
Zane Meyers extended the lead on an open back cut on a pass from freshman Bear Bock. Bringer would drive baseline for a contested layup to cut the lead to one with 5 minutes, eight seconds left to play in the first quarter.
Both teams would trade baskets down the stretch of the first quarter as Palmyra led 10-8 after the first eight minutes of play.
Highland would open the second quarter on a six-point run lasting till the 5:30 mark, forcing Palmyra into a timeout.
Out of the timeout, Abe Haerr would break the scoring drought on a free throw to bring his team within one.
Cougars’ forward Drew Mallet followed with a contested jumper to extend his team’s lead 14-11. Alex Loman off the Panthers’ bench for a game-tying three-pointer with 4:00 left in the half.
On the next possession, Meyers came up with a steal from the Panthers’ half-court defense and found Loman down the court for an open layup giving Palmyra a 16-14 lead.
In the closing minute of the half, Haerr would get an offensive rebound, and get a putback layup for an 18-14 lead at the half.
Coming out of the half both teams would trade baskets until the 4:06 mark in the third quarter 23-21 in favor of the Panthers.
Loman would once again come up big for the Panthers, this time on the defensive end of the court. Highland point guard Alex Meyer drove to the basket, but Loman stood his ground to draw a charge. The play fired up the Panthers’ bench and their faithful in the stands.
This would spark a Panther six-point run to close out the third quarter for a 29-21 lead.
Palmyra would continue the run out of the break with a Bear Bock layup early in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars would start a 5-0 run to bring the game back within three points with 4:45 left in the game.
Meyers would break the Highland run from the free-throw line extending his team’s lead to 32-28.
On the next Panther possession, senior forward Quade Plunkett would score his first basket of the night on an open-top the key three-pointer with under four minutes to play.
Highland senior Drew Mallet would catch fire and score five points in less than a minute to cut the Panther’s lead to three points.
At the one-minute mark, Bock would drive for a contested layup to give Palmyra a three-point cushion of 38-35.
In the final seconds, Alex Meyer would get a dribble handoff and attempt a three-pointer for the tie. The shot was off the mark but Meyer was fouled on the attempt. After hitting the first two shots, Palmyra burned its last timeout with 4.3 seconds left to try and ice Highland.
The strategy worked as the game-tying free throw was missed and Meyers came down with the rebound.
Palmyra missed the front end of a one-and-bonus but Highland’s game-winning heave from half-court came up short at the buzzer.
After the game, Wood talked about the difficulty of winning the district title.
“I have won a couple of district championships in my coaching career and they are never easy, no matter what the odds are,” the Panthers’ coach said. “But I am extremely happy for our seniors and all the kids“.
Bock paced the Panthers with 15 points while Loman added 10 points off the bench. Haerr added five points, while Plunkett and Stamper both chipped in with three points.
Bringer tied Bock for game-high honors to pace Highland in the loss with Mallett (11) and Meyer (8) combining for 19 points.
Palmyra (14-8) will host Christian (O’Fallon) in Tuesday night’s Class 3 Sectional game.
Christian (19-5) picked up a 75-61 win over Trinity Catholic in the District 5 championship game Friday night.