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Panthers clinch first boys hoops title in 33 years
For the first time since 1980, the Maxwell High boys basketball team is league champion.
The Panthers beat Portola 68-61 on Friday in Maxwell to win the Mid-Valley League title, their first league title since finishing atop the North Valley League 33 years ago.
Led by junior center Zach Troughton's 22 points and 12 rebounds, Maxwell took a 29-14 lead early in the second quarter and held on as the Tigers chipped away the rest of the game.
Free-throw shooting and the ability to get to the basket off the press break sealed the victory for the Panthers.
George Barajas and Blake Vierra got free behind the Portola defense on several occasions on long inbound passes late in the fourth quarter and made key baskets and free throws.
"We saw that they tried to foul early in the fourth quarter and then coach said they're going to start pressing so we started doing our inbound plays and it worked," senior guard George Barajas said.
The Panthers (15-5, 8-0) shot just 6 for 11 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, but went 5 for 6 in the final minute when it mattered most.
A free throw by Ricky Lowdermilk cut the Panthers' lead to four points with 40 seconds left in the game, Maxwell's smallest lead since midway through the first quarter when Barajas hit a 3-pointer to break open a 12-10 game.
Portola (9-11, 5-3) made 24 of 28 free throws, including a stellar 10 for 11 by Lowdermilk, who scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Tigers. Maxwell shot 11 for 16 from the stripe.
Barajas scored nine of the Panthers' first 24 points but didn't score again until the final minute. Instead, he dished out eight assists as Troughton dominated the paint, and Vierra and Isaias Martinez shot well from the perimeter.
Vierra scored 11 points, his second highest total of the season, and made two 3-pointers while taking advantage of the holes Barajas and Troughton created in Portola's zone defense.
"We knew that they were going to widen out and they were going to stick on Zach and George, so we were going to have to look for those lanes, and if they collapse on us, just ditch, and that's where Zach came in with his size and George hit the outside shot," Vierra said.
With the playoffs right around the corner, the depth of the Panthers will play a bigger role in whatever success they have the rest of the season, Vierra said.
"We knew that they were going to try to take George out because he's our best, he's the guy. Every team is going to do it from here on out, and we, those other guys, are going to have to start stepping up and just work our hardest to get to the next level."
Barajas finished with 11 points, eight assists and five steals. Martinez added nine points, including a 3-pointer, one of five from downtown the Panthers made in the game.
Defensive specialist Bryce Perry scored four points and made seven assists while covering Lowdermilk for stretches of the game. Eddie Rangel scored just two points, but his four steals and four rebounds kept the ball in Maxwell's hands. Trent Mathis hit a 3-pointer and finished with five points off the bench. Thomas Mitchum and Hunter Ortiz each scored two points in the post while giving Troughton a breather.
The Panthers finish the regular season with a road game against Colusa tonight at 7 p.m. and hosts Biggs on Friday.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.