The Hershey Panthers traveled to Paxton Tuesday and upset the No. 1 class D-1 Tigers 57-51.
Hershey (13-6) handed Paxton (18-1) their first loss of the season with a furious fourth quarter rally.
With a 32-25 lead at halftime, the Panthers looked to be in good shape but Paxton’s offense exploded in the third quarter, outscoring Hershey 18-6 to go into the final quarter with a 43-38 lead.
With all the momentum going Paxton’s way, Hershey came out with a burst of energy and a look of determination in their eyes.
Panther guard Andrew Weitzel opened the period with a long three-pointer to cut the lead down to a bucket.
But Paxton’s sharpshooting guard, Kaden Schow, answered at the other end with a trey of his own to put the Tigers back up by five.
Next trip down the floor, Jacob Gosnell, who had been cold as ice in the third, finally got a shot to fall and cut the Tiger lead back to three.
A miss by the Tigers led to a three by Austin Hoelscher to tie the score with just over five minutes left in the game.
Hershey’s stubborn defense stopped Paxton on their next possession.
A pass inside to Gosnell netted a bucket with an and-one after Paxton’s 6’8” center Blake Brewster swatted him as he shot. The battle under the bucket between the two big men went back and forth the whole game.
Gosnell hit from the charity stripe and the Panthers were up 49-46. Both teams missed a couple of shots before Schow hit his second long three in the period to tie the game again.
The Panthers answered to go back on top 51-49 but Paxton responded again and knotted the score.
Both teams missed opportunities to grab the lead on their next possessions. Brewster was fouled and had a chance to put the Tigers back on top but missed both of his free throws.
Then with under two minutes to go, Panther Nolan Benjamin was fouled and went to the line for a one-one for his chance to give his team the lead.
The Panther fans roared when he hit both free throws and put the Panthers up for good, 53-51 with 1:38 left in the game.
Tough defense and a steal by Benjamin led to another foul. Again, he stepped to the line and sank both free throws to put the Panthers up 55-51.
With 14 seconds left, the Tigers missed another shot, Benjamin grabbed the rebound and was quickly fouled. This time he made one of two to build the lead to six.
Another miss and a rebound by Gosnell put him on the line with two ticks left on the clock. He hit one of two to seal the victory for Hershey.
Hershey coach Dustin Jorgenson said he was proud of how the team responded in the last period.
“They could have folded the tent but I am really proud how they battled back. They played with a lot of heart,” he said.
“Paxton is well coached and we knew it was going to be a game of roller-coasters, but we didn’t know it was going to be that extreme. We built up a nice lead and lost it in the third. Then we came back and they lost it in the fourth. Our kids played with resilience.”
Gosnell led the Panthers offense with 20 points all inside the paint against Brewster. Benjamin added 16 including three treys and Cayden Spearman had 10 with a pair of threes.
Overall, the Panthers hit seven treys and went 8-12 from the free throw line.
Paxton’s Schow led all scorers with 23, including three shots from outside the arc. Brewster had 14 and Jordon Callihan had eight with a trey.
Paxton had four three-point buckets and hit 5-12 free throws.
Hershey travels to North Platte St. Pat’s on Thursday to take on the Irish (9-12).
Jorgenson anticipates a hard-fought game,
“It’s St. Pat’s,” he said. “It will be a great battle and a great atmosphere. We will have to continue to play hard.”
Score by quarters:
Hershey: 15 -17 -6 -19 –57
Paxton: 10 -15-18 -8 –51