One thing is certain about the first meeting between these two cross-county rivals, which Mendocino won when they hosted Anderson Valley on the stormy coast last month: The game was far closer than the 61-48 final score suggested. And there was no way to rate the sheer physical intensity of the game on the scoreboard.
So it is fair to say that both sides were spoiling for a fight when the Cardinals rolled into Boonville Tuesday evening for the rematch with the hometown Panthers of Anderson Valley High. And they delivered a thriller to the packed gym, in a game won by Mendocino 66-65 in the last two seconds of overtime. Mendocino is now 14-6 overall and 7-2 in league play. The loss evens AV's overall record at 10-10 and 6-3 in the league.
In a rivalry that dates back more than 60 years – and with local memories that stretch even further – the game was still a hot topic in the coffeehouse and pubs of both towns days later.
The first half was nip and tuck, essentially fought to a draw. The players on both teams that consistently play well did. For AV the blue chippers Issac Sanchez, Gerardo Torales, Christian Natareno, JT Carlin, and for the Cardinals, Nakai Baker, Sean Symonds and Evan Cole.
The notable exception on that list is Cardinal center Cody Call, typically a dominant offensive player. The Panthers were able to shut down the big Mendocino center, limiting him to just four points for the game.
Just before the game Anderson Valley Coach Luis Espinoza issued a flat injunction: “Defense wins games”. The way his big centers Alejandro Soto and Tony Pardini combined to stop Call's offensive production makes a good case for the coach's comment.
But it should be noted that the Panthers were not able to put on a leash on Call's rebounding, where he had 14 for the game, leading the Cardinals.
Mendocino was able to open up a 10 point lead at one point in the third quarter, that try as they might, Anderson Valley was never able to overcome. The problem was that each time the Panthers managed to claw their way to the top of the wooden cage, Cardinal Guard Nakai Baker would hammer them back with his three-pointers. And at one crucial stretch he was hitting them like a nail gun.
This had to be frustrating for Anderson Valley because they were able to close the gap on the strength of very solid performances by Sanchez, Torales and Carlin. But it was Baker for Mendocino, on his way to a 31 point game hitting several clutch treys in the final stretch, that was there each time. He was assisted by Cardinal teammates Sean Symonds and Evan Cole.
Late in the game the Panthers were able to take the lead, and as the game clock ticked away, it looked like AV would win 64-62. But then Sean Symonds hit a trey to put Mendo up by one point 65-64 with thirty seconds to go in regulation.
Espinoza called time for AV. The Panthers in-bounded the ball with 30 seconds and got three shots away, but could not get the ball to drop. Finally Mendocino fouled Tony Pardini, sending him to the line. Pardini hit one of two to tie the game at 65 with 2.1 seconds to go and send it into almost certain overtime.
Mendo in-bounded the ball and then the Panthers took a devastating foul with 0.2 seconds left to Nakai Baker, no doubt the best shooter on the Cardinal team, and thus the worst possible person to foul at that moment. Baker iced the blood in his veins and promptly canned both free throws, giving the Cardinals victory by an apparent score of 67-65.
The officials later disallowed one of Baker's two free-throws. Thus the final was 66-65 Mendocino, as they picked up a stunning victory on the road against the hometown Anderson Valley Panthers.
The Cardinals (15-4, 9-0) crushed the Panthers 58-38 as Mendocino improved to 15-4 overall and remained undefeated in league play at 9-0. The Panthers fell to 5-8 overall and 3-3 in the league.
Mendocino was led by their senior point guard Emily Symonds with 18 points 6 rebounds 4 assists and 5 steals. Junior Jaycee Hendricks had 15. Aimee Gordon, the spark-plug junior point guard for the Cards, had only 8 points but she led her team with 11 rebounds, and clocked in with 5 assists and 5 steals to boot.
Riley Lemons, Haliee Peterson and Jazmin Espinoza led the Panthers. AV center Ava Sanchez, who was a dominant player in the earlier match-up between these schools, fouled out early in the 4th after duking it out all night with Cardinal center Tayler Kolby-Kishbaugh.
Controversy Surrounds Panther Narrow Loss
by Panther Coach Luis Espinoza
The Panthers lost a squeaker against Mendocino Tuesday night, 66 to 65. After having a night to think about how the game against Mendocino went, I keep going back to how great our Panthers played. There were multiple opportunities to put our heads down and give up but we didn't and we fought to get back in it each and every time. I can't begin to express how proud I am of our kids and our fans. I do think we're a step above the rest and sportsmanship in and of itself has always been my commitment to this sport. I believe we showed that last night when the winning team's fans were "jubilantly" expressing their teams win. What they do and how they celebrate or complain is on their administrators and parents. They aren't Panthers. There are rivalries and this is one I have known for a long time. It's ingrained in me, a part of me, and it will always remain there, but it's high school basketball plain and simple.
There are winners and there are losers in every contest. I'll briefly explain what happened last night: With 2.1 seconds left on the clock and a tie game, Mendocino inbounded the ball. With the dribbler making his way through two Panther defenders, he lost control of the ball and made contact with one defender. A foul was called as the clock stopped with 0.2 seconds (two-tenths of a second). Both teams were in Bonus which sent the Mendocino player to the free-throw line. He made his first shot putting them up by one. As he was preparing to take the second shot, a Mendocino player committed a lane violation causing a turnover. The ball should have been given to us for the inbound attempt with 0.2 seconds left. The head official then (incorrectly) assumed because there was not sufficient time left on the clock to inbound the ball, called the game. At that point emotions were high and I failed to recognize what the issue was; still in disbelief that (1) a foul was called (2) that the clock had not run out in the time the player was dribbling. Regardless, I did not take command of the situation and let the game end.
There are multiple scenarios that could have played out with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. A dead ball foul, a technical foul, even a long ball tip in could have been attempted. None of those opportunities came to pass because the referees walked off the court and hand shakes were exchanged.
Any Panther faithful who knows these boys: please take the opportunity to tell them how wonderful they played last night. There are so many good things to take from this game and, let’s be honest, we know who the better team is, when a 70% free throw shooting team shoots 12-26 from the line, you aren't going to win many close games.
In perspective, it's not the last shot that wins the game, it's everything combined. I spoke to the official last night who personally called me last night after I got home. We had a good conversation and I don't hold anything against him. We all had a job to do last night and in the end we all went home a little wiser.
Mendocino's coach came to me after the game and offered up that I should protest the outcome of the game.
(1) There is no protest in HS basketball and (2) what would it prove? I thought about it last night and this morning, I'm not going to act like the sore loser and complain about how the game ended. I'm going to take these boys to practice as usual and we'll get back on the horse, ready to take on the next team that decides to play us.
BTW: If Mendocino really feels bad about the outcome of the game, they are welcome to call it a wash and let’s play again. I mean technically the game NEVER ended — let's do it again and see what happens. What do you have to lose?
PS. If you want to see how the game ended feel free to look at the MendocinoSportsPlus Facebook page. A grainy video of the end will show you what happened.
Our next game is Friday night against Covelo. Games start at 3:30 pm.