The Panthers of Pine Grove lifted the 1-1A district championship trophy on Friday night to raucous applause from the Sea of Red. There were tears and hugs and screams of “Let’s GO!” from the team after their 52-48 win over the top ranked team in 1A, the Biggersville Lions.
But make no mistake, this goal was achieved and won over the summer, in the gym late at night and on Saturday nights and early Sunday mornings. Putting up countless shots, taking direction from head coach Jake Walker on ball movement and defensive alignment.
The Panthers had a familiar chorus last season: we are young and next year, just you wait until next year.
Next year is here. The future is now and the upstart Panthers have the first of what they hope are many signature wins with this group.
Over the summer, Pine Grove showed flashes of potential. They got big wins in game action over Baldwyn and Ingomar. They kept working.
This win is a culmination of lots of things. Last season, teams sold out to keep then-freshman Carson Rowland from driving to the basket to defeat the young Panthers. So the Panthers spent all offseason working on taking away that option for teams.
It was Rowland working on his game tirelessly, working on his athleticism, free throws and adding a now dangerous three point shot.
Jack Hudson and John Bullock hoisting shot after shot after shot, becoming one of the areas most efficient and deadly three point shooting duos. It was Keaton Wilkerson buying in to doing whatever it takes to help Pine Grove win.
The Panthers added a key piece when Cade Wilder moved in. He acclimated seamlessly into the Pine Grove lineup. A new player coming in, especially one with as much experience as Wilder, would throw off the chemistry of a lot of teams. But since day one, Wilder’s wry smile and easy going attitude fit right in as a member of the Red and White.
Mason Bullock, the longest tenured Panther, stepped up to lead with his quiet demeanor and effective play. On Friday, Mason did what he normally does: score, defend, rebound, handle the ball and generally go about the business of handling business.
For all the accolades for this team thus far this season, the 25 wins and the district title, one thing is for certain.
They we will go back to work and focus on their next goal, starting with a home playoff game against Coldwater.