Surging Panas Upends Lakeland, Poughkeepsie, Hen Hud

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Panthers Take Giglio Games Gold Ball; Mahopac Pounds Somers, Seeks League Title

By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
Walter Panas junior G Alex Tavarez a viable D I prospect spins and wins in the lane for two of his game high 21 points in the host Panthers 73 45 win over rival Lakeland in Saturdays 31st annual Giglio Games

And here comes Class A WALTER PANAS, just like we thought it would. A mid-season funk now a thing of the past, Coach Mike Auerbach’s Panthers (12-4, 5-2 in II-D) have reeled off six-straight wins, including Saturday’s 73-45 League II-D win over visiting rival LAKELAND at the 31st rendition of the Giglio Games. Behind three double-digit scorers, including Maleek McNeil (14), Oliver Smith (21) and silky smooth junior G Alex Tavarez (game-high 23), the Panthers left the Hornets in the dust behind a 22-10 third-quarter run that saw the effusive Tavarez unleash a whirling slam dunk off a steal… game, set, match, which kept Panas from being whitewashed at the fabled Giglio Games (Lakeland won 3 of 4 contested games).

The Panthers were caught up in a COVID cloud around the holidays, leading to some internal issues and some sub-par play, but the corner was officially turned last week with wins over Lakeland, Poughkeepsie and Hen Hud, putting Panas in position to snag at least a share of the league title with Lourdes (8-0), should they beat the Warriors and get some necessary help from Hen Hud.

“A lot has changed but the main thing that has improved greatly was our ball movement,” said Tavarez, a legit D-I prospect and top local talent. “As a team, we’ve grown a lot chemistry-wise and I definitely think we are a section-winning team and we’re looking to accomplish that goal. Big things are coming.”

In Panas’ 59-53 win over host Poughkeepsie, Tavarez had 30 points and McNeil added 11 points in a statement triumph that helped the Panthers work their way to the current No.5 seed in Class A.

“Tavarez has been terrific,” Auerbach stated. “He was 12 for 21 from the field and 6 for 6 from the free-throw line against Poughkeepsie. He hit big basket after big basket in a really tough environment and did an excellent job defending their point guard Jahlyl Morgan, who hurt us in the first game a few weeks ago. Maleek was big, too. He gave us a reliable second option to play through offensively.

Panas C Maleek McNeil challenges Lakelands Logan Shiland and Andrew Mendel in Panthers Giglio Games win over visiting Hornets Saturday

“The difference though was it was the best game our role players played collectively against one of the upper-tier teams in the section,” Auerbach added. “Dillon Chenard was excellent, blocked four shots to go along with eight rebounds and two big three-pointers on the offensive end. Oliver Smith chipped in with eight rebounds and five points and Cam Nicholas stepped up with seven points, five assists, five rebounds and made a couple huge baskets to stop the bleeding when Poughkeepsie went on their runs. We’ve felt all along our A-game was good enough to beat anyone on our schedule. Finding that level consistently will be the challenge down the stretch. We play just about every other day now with some tough league games and a trip to Somers over the final week and a half of the regular season.”

Panas started the week with a 73-51 drubbing of HEN HUD behind 20 points from Tavarez 19 from McNeil had 19 and Smith added 13 for Panas. Hen Hud’s Rocco Capicotti scored 11 points while Michael Gagliardi added nine.
It’s entirely possible that Panas is fully back in business, on the hunt for its first title since 2014 when the great Tim McCauley was doing his thing.

“We’re clicking the way we thought we could back in November,” Auerbach said.” Tavarez had an incredible week.”

That week and his season has conjured up images of the past.

“Outside of Timmy McCauley at the County Center, I’m not sure there have been many better individual weeks in recent Panas history,” Auerbach said of Tavarez, who has 820 career points despite the COVID issues that have wrought havoc. “His defense on Chris Whyte-Luciano from the second quarter on was outstanding, in addition to what he gave us on the offensive end. Chris was hurting us early and we didn’t really have an answer for him off their ball screen stuff until Alex dug in and was able to start getting through it on his own.”
McNeil, a true X-factor for Panas, has found his niche of late.

“Finding different ways we can play through Maleek, whether it’s against man or zone, has made a huge difference too,” the coach said. “He’s such an easy target and I’m not sure I’ve seen many better passing big men at this level. Oliver Smith was great against Lakeland. He’s an endless energy guy who can take advantage of smaller teams that will struggle to keep him off the boards.”

Hen Hud senior C Rocco Capicotti gets up for two in Sailors win over visiting Lakeland Thursday

Hen Hud (10-7, 4-4) went on to knock off Lakeland, 56-42, for the second time this season when Dean Hiltsley and Gino Wamack ran circles around the Hornets for 19 points apiece. Lakeland (7-9) was led by David Mula’s 10 points but remained winless in league play.

The Sailors concluded the week with a 57-43 Gazette Cup win over Croton to win for the third time in four games while maneuvering their way to the No.15 seed.

Winning ugly is rarely pretty, but it’s better than the alternative, so an ugly victory can be a beautiful thing; just ask MAHOPAC Coach Tom McMahon, whose team survived a 45-44 League II-C win over visiting YORKTOWN on senior night last Thursday.

“It may have been ugly, but it is exactly what we expected and prepared for,” McMahon said after Max Gomes finished with a team-high 12 points, including two clutch free throws in the waning seconds and another breakaway bucket. “It’s just another close win for this team, which just seems to find a way in those types of games. That’s a credit to the kids we have.

“(Yorktown coach) Mark (Pavella) is one of the best coaches in the section and his team always gives us trouble,” McMahon added. “I thought we did a great job defending (Eddie) Brucaj and (Billy) Feeks and (Justin) Price, but Price made some tough plays and shots in the fourth, which happens, but defending them takes a lot out of you. We didn’t shoot it well enough, but made a couple when it counted. Any league win is a good win.”

Mahopac senior F Ryan Reilly snagged nine caroms and F Colum Ranaghan added nine points and seven boards for the Indians (11-4), who had their hands full with Price. Of his game-high 18 points, the silky sophomore hit a pair of lethal 3’s to give the Huskers a short-lived lead late in the fourth. Price added six rebounds and five assists and continued his ascension through the ranks of Section 1. Senior C Brucaj added eight points and 10 boards for Yorktown, which suffered its second loss in a row (53-50 to John Jay CR).

Mahopac has now reeled off 10 wins in its last 11 games, including Tuesday’s 57-40 League II-C win at SOMERS, which had won eight in a row but lost all hopes of procuring its first league title since 1989. The win put Mahopac (7-0 in League II-C) in the driver’s seat for the league title.

“We’ll get that league title if it’s the last thing we do,” Somers Coach Chris DiCintio said. “Probably not this year, but before I ride off into retirement. Quite frankly, Mahopac just has our number this year. I don’t know if it’s in our heads or what, or if it’s just a bad matchup with their length and strength. We didn’t expect our two top players to get two fouls on each of them in the first quarter, which took our two best All-Section players out of the game. That being said, I thought Coach McMahon did a great job coming out in a defense we hadn’t seen from them all year in the diamond-and-one. That stumped us. They had not played that a single time all year in all the film we watched, but I still like our chances in the playoffs.”

The Tuskers (10-7) had little chance in the second half against the Indians, who saw the heroics of junior G Joey Koch and the timely shots of senior Max Gomes come up clutch, scoring all of his eight points after the break. Koch was off the hook, though, delivering three 3’s while providing a measure of breathing room in a game with no room to breathe until Koch ignited a 20-6 run to give the Indians a 53-34 lead with 1:38 remaining.

Mahopac’s Mike Callahan finished with 12 points and five rebounds, including a clutch hoop down the stretch while teammate Ranaghan had 11 points, six rebounds and three assists. Jake Couzens chimed in with 10 points and six rebounds. Reilly added six points and nabbed nine rebounds.

Somers was in it to win it when senior G Bennett Leitner drained four 3s in the fourth quarter and finished with 16 points while sharpshooting soph Andrew Violante finished went for nine. Somers junior F Matt Fitzsimons was contained to five points and seven rebounds.

With three games left and a two-game lead on the rest of the league, Mahopac (7-0 in II-C) will look to wrap up the league title this week against Greeley, John Jay CR and Brewster.

Somers recovered with a 61-53 win over visiting Putnam Valley, which had no answers for the Fitzsimons’ double-double. Leitner added 15 points and four steals. Nicky Iocovello crushed the Tigers from behind the arc (three 3-pointers) for Somers. Arthur Holzman (17 points) and Cole Durocher (16) kept the Class B Tigers in striking distance.


OSSINING found out that White Plains, despite its subpar record (6-11), is no joke when Tiger Logan McCormack (20 points) and Daniel Herzner (10) went for double digits in a 50-45 White Plains win. Ossining hotshot Jaeden Carr had 18 points for the Pride (10-6), who currently hold the No.6 seed.

CARMEL (10-6) lost its first crack at RCK, 65-52, and now know what we’ve been hearing about all year; RCK (11-3) is legit as the current No.3 seed. Andrew Fiore had 15 points and four rebounds for the Rams, the current No.5 seed, in the loss. The Rams did recover in time to post an 83-48 blowout of Port Chester when F Nick DiLeo posted another strong double-double (17 points, 13 rebounds) while Fiore chipped in 15 points.


HALDANE hammered North Salem, 74-52 when Matteo Cervone (20 points), Tristen Reid (12) and Soren Holmbo (11) all went to town for the Blue Devils (15-2), the No.1 seed in Class C, who will look to lock down the League III-E title this week.

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