By JD McCarthy for the Opelika Observer
Three days after the Varsity Girls lost in the first round, the Smiths Station Varsity Boys Panthers made it to the Area 4-7A area championship game but came up short against Auburn, falling 85-57 in their third matchup of the season.
To get to the game, the Panthers had to beat Central-Phenix City for the third time in the season in the opening round of the area tournament. They accomplished this with a 68-58 win to complete the season sweep.
“We just kind of do one thing and we want to be real good at it,” coach Stephen Davis said. “I just think we were a little deeper and that helped us win the game.”
The Panthers have relied on strong performances in the second half throughout this season, and Wednesday was no exception.
“We want to pressure you until we wear you down and in the fourth quarter, we are aiming on being not as tired and not as worn down as you are. That’s what we have been doing all year,” Davis said.
Zay Madden was the player who came through for the Panthers when they needed him most, scoring 10 of his 17 points in the final quarter and helping the Panthers pull away from the Red Devils.
The Panthers also got big performances from Donovan Pearman and Devyn Pearman who had 16 and 11 points, respectively
They did not have long to celebrate the win, however, as they played Auburn on Saturday for the area tournament title.
The Panthers knew the game would be a challenge after splitting the regular season series 1-1, with the home team winning both games. This trend stayed true as Auburn won 85-57 to secure the area title.
The Panthers kept it close through the first half, opening the game with a 7-0 run before Noah Warren checked in for Auburn and energized the offense, giving the Tigers a four-point lead heading into the second quarter.
“He gets them going offensively,” Davis said of Warren. “He was a big difference maker for them. He just gave them a burst of energy when the game was back-and-forth.”
Smiths Station entered the second half down 38-37 before Auburn exploded for 28 points in the third quarter to pull away for the 85-57 victory.
The Panthers have had troubles in the third in each of the matchups, and this time they were not able to overcome them. The Tigers opened the quarter with an emphatic dunk and the Panthers were never able to catch up after that.
“Auburn is a real good team,” Davis said. “They have 11 seniors so that makes a difference.”
Davis was quick to point out that both programs have had “good” seasons and how tough the area was this season, with the Panthers winning 19 games and the Tigers winning 18, with three of their six total losses coming to each other.
The Tigers defense were able to shut Madden down, holding him to just four points. The Pearman’s once again had big games for the Panthers, with Donovan scoring 17 points and Devyn scoring 15 with both being named to the all-tournament team.
“Those kids are special kids, they’ve always played together and play extremely hard and are a big part of our team,” Davis said of the brothers.
Despite the loss to Auburn, the Panthers season is not over, as they advanced to the first round of the regional tournament. The Panthers are slated to go up against Fairhope at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The Pirates are 26-1 and winners of the Area 2-7A regional tournament.
“We’ve got another chance to play,” Davis said.