Don Kuhnen, AP Sports
The EP Panther boys traveled to powerful Rockridge Friday night and gave the host Rockets quite a scare through 3 quarters but fell 56-38. Rockridge entered the contest with an overall record of 15-4 and 6-0 to lead the West Division of the Three Rivers Conference.
The contest opened with neither team showing much offense. EP missed their first four shots, all good open 3 pointers. Michael Collins layup with 3 minutes left in the first was EP’s opening basket and Rockridge led 5-2. Senior Caleb Naftzger then took over for the Panthers on the offensive end and scored EP’s last 7 points of the first quarter which ended 10-9 in favor of the hosts.
Naftzger continued to dominate the second quarter with drives to the basket and feeding off his teammates’ passes to score at will. He scored 18 of the Panthers 21 first half points as the Panthers were within one at 22-21 at halftime.
Both teams played man-to-man most of the first half with the Panthers mixing in some 2-3 zone at times to confuse the host.
The Rockets scored the first bucket of the second half but a 3-ball from Jack Minssen tied the game at 24 at the 6 minute mark. The Panthers never did take the lead but continued to hang close throughout the third quarter. Rockridge did switch their all area performer Jase Whiteman to guarding Naftzger and with help from his teammates were able to limit Caleb in the second half to no shot attempts until the last 5 seconds of the game. Conner Keegan’s 3-pointer near the end of the third period made it 39-32 Rockets heading into the final 8 minutes.
A couple EP turnovers and some open threes that the hosts knocked down gave Rockridge some breathing room early in the fourth quarter. The Rockets then controlled the ball and didn’t let the Panthers get any closer in the end.
Naftzger’s 2 free throws in the last 5 seconds made the final 56-38.
Coach Ryan Winckler was proud of the Panthers effort. ”We came to their place and fought even with one of the best teams in the area for 20 minutes. A couple offensive mistakes and defensive let downs doomed us in the 4th quarter. We had a great week of practice and continue to improve.”
Naftzger led the Panthers in scoring with 20 while Collins added 7.
EP is now 5-12 overall and 1-5 in the conference. They will host Monmouth-Roseville Tuesday, Orion Friday and travel to Fulton Saturday to meet Prince of Peace in the shootout at 10:30AM.