by Rick Conrad
For the Pharos-Tribune
North White boys basketball coach Eli Henson thought his squad could upset the powerful Pioneer Panthers in their semifinal matchup at the Class A West Central Sectional.
His plan was to take away the shooting of Brandon Scruggs and Carter Skaggs. The Vikings ran the gameplan to near perfection, but the Panthers have more than two weapons. No. 4-ranked Pioneer went on for a 64-41 win to advance to tonight’s championship game.
The Panthers (19-3) face host West Central (7-15) at 7:30 p.m. tonight for a shot at their fourth straight sectional crown.
It was obvious from the opening tip that the Vikings (10-12) were wanting to take away the outside threat that Scruggs and Skaggs possess as they threw a triangle-and-two at the Panthers.
Fortunately for the Panthers, they also have two seniors in Mitchell Williams and Matt Dorris that are capable of stepping up at any time. On Friday night they did. Williams was a workhorse on the boards while Dorris was a workhorse on both ends of the floor. Defensively, the duo took away the inside game of the Vikings while Scruggs, Skaggs and Stephen Whitlock patrolled the perimeter contesting nearly every Viking shot. With Scruggs and Skaggs being shut down from long range, they simply dumped down to Dorris and Williams for easy buckets.
Both teams battled evenly for about the first half of the opening quarter. Once the Panthers figured out what North White was trying to do, they went to work. By the 1:36 mark they had opened up a 19-7 lead on their way to a 23-11 score after one quarter of play.
The Vikings found holes in the Panther defense a couple times during the second quarter and were able to chip into the lead. They got to within eight points on two occasions but Pioneer would quickly bump the lead back up. By the end of the second frame Pioneer was still on top 33-24 going into the break.
After the break the Panthers took the floor and played like the highly ranked team they are. By the 4:57 mark of the third they had built a 43-30 lead. Moments later Skaggs nailed two free throws to give the Panthers their biggest lead of the night at 47-32. Following a North White bucket, Pioneer took possession with 1:47 left on the clock. The Panthers spread the floor taking time off before finding Williams inside with :06 to go in the third. Williams hit the bucket and was fouled. The senior stepped to the line and calmly nailed the freebie giving Pioneer a 50-34 lead going into the final quarter.
Not satisfied with a 16-point lead, the Panthers went on a 8-0 run to open the final quarter. The run was halted at the 4:13 mark when Dalton Fleck hit a short jumper. The scoring ended for the Panthers at the 1:05 mark when Scruggs was fouled while driving to the basket. Scruggs hit both free throws to make it a 64-40 game. Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs then pulled the starters as the Panthers went on to the 64-41 win.
Pioneer also took away the outside shooting ability of the Vikings during the game as well as the inside threat. Big Oscar Marravilla had a solid game for the Vikes the last time the two teams met. Dorris was in position nearly every time the Vikings wanted to get the ball to him taking away the dump pass inside. North White was forced to try and get a shot off from the outside but the swarming Panther defense made that extremely difficult. With the Vikings’ guns shut down the only player able to muster double figures was Luke Diener, who finished with 11 points. Marravilla was held to just seven which were mainly garbage baskets collected on loose balls.
“We were able to contain them on the inside tonight, but we really wanted to focus on stopping Buschman,” Dorris said. “We had Brandon chasing him and after chasing Howdeshell the last game, he’s pretty wiped out right now. But we handled the triangle-and-two pretty well and were able to get guys to the basket.”
Dorris led the Panthers with a game-high 20 points while three other Pioneer players hit for double figures. Scruggs finished with 19 while Carter Skaggs finished with 11. Williams added 10 of his own in the win.
Pioneer also continued its strong free throw shooting by nailing 11 on 12 attempts.
“(North White) had a solid game plan against us tonight,” Pat Skaggs said. “They’re a young team and they’re going to make some noise in the MWC in the next couple years.
“I thought our guys did a nice job of reading what they were giving us and then getting the ball to the open guy.”