It was standing room only Friday night at Pinewood School, where the Panthers hosted Sacred Heart Prep in a high-stakes boys basketball game televised live on the Comcast Hometown Network.
The stage proved too big for Pinewood, which unraveled in the second quarter and lost 77-58.
The pressure of playing under the spotlight with a chance to tie the Gators for first place in the West Bay Athletic League may have gotten to the Panthers, according to junior Solomone Wolfgramm.
“We got a little anxious and had a lot of turnovers,” said Wolfgramm, whose 18 points was second to only Kyle Riches’ 19 for Pinewood. “We had trouble with their press and rebounding – we didn’t do a good job boxing out and gave up too many second-chance points.”
Sacred Heart Prep grabbed a whopping 45 rebounds – 17 on the offensive end – and came away with 18 steals.
Pinewood (8-2 league, 16-4 overall) committed seven turnovers in the opening quarter and didn’t secure a single offensive rebound, yet trailed only 13-11.
Dante Fraioli’s top-of-the-key 3 gave the Panthers their only lead at 5-4, and Kevin Sweat made back-to-back runners before Cameron Helvey ignited the home fans with a breakaway dunk with 16 seconds remaining.
But that didn’t rattle the Gators (10-0, 18-2), the defending league and Central Coast Section Division IV champions. They opened the second quarter with a 12-4 run and led 37-22 at halftime.
“Their shooting in the second quarter was spectacular, and we just couldn’t buy one,” Pinewood coach Jason Peery said. “We were missing layups and they were hitting 3s, and that’s a bad combination.”
Pinewood’s deficit grew in the third quarter. Will McConnell’s jumper from just inside the arc gave the Gators their biggest advantage at 56-27 with 3:16 left in the period. McConnell finished with a game-high 27 points, while brothers Reed and Cole totaled 16 and 14, respectively.
“All three McConnells were fantastic tonight,” said Peery, whose team outscored the brothers by just one point. “They were just fantastic.”
Pinewood played its best in the fourth quarter, outscoring Sacred Heart Prep 24-19, but it wasn’t nearly enough to prevent the Gators from winning their 14th consecutive game.
“The second half I felt like we did a better job against them,” said Wolfgramm, who scored 12 points in the final quarter. “But we’ve got to play like that from the beginning instead of waiting until the second half and playing catch up.”
Team captain Aaron Daines said Pinewood can learn from the loss.
“This is good for us,” said the senior, out the rest of the season with a concussion suffered three weeks ago. “It will make us realize, ‘Yes, boxing out before going for the rebound does actually matter.’ It exposes your flaws. We’ll get better from this.”
Although the Panthers played Sacred Heart closer last month, falling 87-71 on the road, Peery believes they were better this time around.
“Our guys gave a good effort,” he said. “I feel like even though the score didn’t show it, our guys played much more poised than last time – but not poised enough.”
Earlier in the week, Pinewood routed Crystal Springs Upland 81-56. Riches totaled 19 points, eight rebounds and four steals for the visiting Panthers. Helvey added 18 points and seven rebounds, while Wolfgramm contributed 17 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
Pinewood jumped to a 24-14 lead after one quarter and finished the Feb. 1 game on a 12-3 run.