In a game last week he'll remember forever, and a game that still has the Anderson Valley buzzing, Tony Pardini Jr., with seconds left in overtime, intercepted a Hanna pass, quickly drew a foul, and coolly sank the second of his two free throws, sealing the third round sectional championship for Anderson Valley last Wednesday night, 63-61.
The packed Boonville gym was delirious at the victory over the tenacious visitors from Sonoma, but in the end it was Anderson Valley's tenacity that won out. And, for the first time ever, an Anderson Valley basketball team advanced to the championship round for the Northcoast Section.
Last Wednesday night, Anderson Valley had played their usual high-tempo game with that amazing perpetual motion machine, Cesar Soto, leading his teammates in a crushing, all-out man-to-man defense against the Sonoma visitors. Hanna was led by a 6'6" center and a bull-like forward who kept Hanna in the game right down to Pardini's last-minute heroics.
But without Will Lemons clutch free throw, and the lay-up Lemons' muscled up and in from underneath to put the Panthers up 62-61 with two minutes left, Pardini's heroics might have gone for naught. The crowd was in a full frenzy as both teams proceeded to miss numerous shots from directly below the hoops, and it was still 62-61 with 37 seconds left when Pardini did his unforgettable thing, and victory was ours.
Anderson Valley's exuberant coach Espinoza said after the Hanna game that "the environment was amazing and the boys played their hearts out. The ugliness came in the foul trouble we put ourselves in. A quick stat: While we were about 50% from the line Hanna went 8-34, with two players going 0-11 and 0-7 respectively. You know I'm a free throw guy. But the bench stepped up and provided the boost we needed and showed even me that I can rely on them in crucial minutes which is probably the most important thing I learned."
Missed free throws and turnovers will sink a good team every time. Fortunately for Anderson Valley, it was the other good team that slipped beneath Anderson Valley's relentless defense.
"I really think," Coach Espinoza continued, "that's the beauty of this team; there is not one person I rely on more than any other. They don't know the word quit, it's not in their vocabulary. They are an amazing group of good kids."
Then it was off to Emery on a proverbially dark and stormy Saturday night for the biggest game ever for Anderson Valley basketball.
On a tip from Coach Espinoza we watched the uniquely lethargic Panthers — ordinarily, they go full-on end-to-end — fall to Emery via the National High School Sports Network, which we'd never heard of. We paid a one-game fee of $10 and were pleasantly surprised at the quality of presentation, complete with an announcer who never so much as stumbled over his pronunciation of player's names.
With an impressive crowd of Boonville fans nearly as large as the Emery homers looking on, Anderson Valley came out slow and tentative against a quick and confident Emery team, falling behind 10-1 only three minutes into the game. The Panthers never would take the lead, but did claw their way to within 3 points of Emery by the end of the first half. But Emery pulled away in the second half to win the small school Northcoast sectional championship, 59-46.
It was a combination of missed free throws and turnovers that sank the curiously lethargic Anderson Valley squad. Perhaps enervated by their exhausting victory over Hanna, the Panthers, ranked second among Division 6 schools, were easily de-clawed by number one ranked Emery, against whom the Anderson Valley boys just might get a re-match if all goes well in tonight's (Wednesday) game against visiting Chester High School.
What? More basketball? Yes, sir, Anderson Valley's sterling season has earned the Panthers a berth in the state's small school championships, and has earned Anderson Valley its first berth as host to a state championship game.