What a difference a year makes.
The Van Alstyne Panthers traveled to Pilot Point on Jan. 14 and came home with a 58-48 win. It was the Panthers’ 19th win of the season.
Last season the Panthers beat the Bearcats 54-33 for their third win of the year and first district victory.
Coach Russell Best has gotten a lot smarter. And that group of freshman who struggled through a 10-win season last year has gotten a lot better.
Van Alstyne (19-2)(4-1) got off to its typical hot-start following the bye week, getting buckets from downtown by Zach Davis, Isaiah Boling, Jake Hillebrenner and Harrison Awe. Awe’s shot was from downtown Tioga.
A 10-2 Van Alstyne run to start the game forced a Pilot Point timeout, and 3-pointers by Boling and Hillebrenner helped give Van Alstyne a 16-6 lead at the end of the first period.
Two free throws by Seth Caraway and 3-pointers from Jared McMakin and Bailey Thorpe kept the Panther lead at 10, but the Bearcats were making some 3-point noise as well.
Josh Wardle and Cory Powell scored from beyond the arc and Wardle’s old-school, 3-point play cut into the Van Alstyne lead.
The Panthers were held to just one basket in the last four minutes of the first half as Pilot Point went on a 12-2 run. A basket by Randy Peggs at the buzzer tied the score, 26-26.
The Bearcats took a 28-27 lead early in the third period, but Van Alstyne answered as McMakin dropped in another 3-pointer. Colin McCaskill, held scoreless in the first half, stepped into a catch-and-shoot 3-ball at the top of the arc, then put back an offensive rebound to keep Van Alstyne on top by three.
A basket by Caraway, who was fouled on the make, plus his and-one helped stretched the lead to 44-37 at the end of the quarter.
After McCaskill had scored early in the final frame, Pilot Point went on another scoring run and a basket by Wardle tied the game at 46-all with just over four minutes left to play.
That would be the last field goal the Bearcats would score as the Van Alstyne defense stepped up.
Another McCaskill bucket (he finished with 10 points) and Thorpe’s 3-ball from the top gave the Panthers some breathing room. The Bearcats made 2-of-4 from the charity stripe over those final four minutes while the Panthers were cashing in on five of their six trips to the line.
McMakin scored at the final horn to give the Panthers the 10-point win.
Van Alstyne 16 10 18 14 — 58
Pilot Point 6 20 11 11 — 48
VA: Jared McMakin 10, Colin McCaskill 10, Zach Davis 9, Bailey Thorpe 9, Jake Hillebrenner 5, Seth Caraway 5,Harrison Awe 5, Isaiah Boling 5.