The upsets just keep on coming for the Palo Verde Panthers.
The Southwest League runners-up, who shocked Northwest League champ Centennial and star guard Troy Brown in the Sunset Region semifinals before losing to seven-time champion Bishop Gorman in the title game, took down Sunrise champion Canyon Springs, 50-48, in the NIAA State Division I semifinals on Thursday night at the Orleans Arena.
Palo Verde’s reward? A title game rematch tonight at 8:05 p.m. with big, bad and prohibitive favorite Bishop Gorman, which toyed with Northern Region champion Galena, 75-41, in the other semifinal.
It will be the fourth meeting in less than two months between the west side rivals. Bishop Gorman (26-6) swept Palo Verde (21-9) in Southwest League action by scores of 88-63 and 71-57, then crushed the Panthers, 82-46, last Friday in the Sunset final.
Will the fourth time be the charm?
“We’ll give it our best and come out fighting,” Palo Verde coach Paul Sanchez said. “They know us, we know them. It’s been a unique year in that we’ve been able to play them so much being in the same conference.”
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“Obviously Palo and Gorman go back a long ways so I think that will be good motivation for both teams,” Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice, who will be trying for his fourth straight title, said. “We’ve had that rivalry going for a long time in different sports. I think that it will motivate Palo and it will motivate Gorman too.”
Palo Verde, which had to win a play-in game on Monday night over Sunrise Region runners-up Valley, 71-61, just to get into the State Tourney, trailed Canyon Springs, 48-45, before point guard Ja Morgan sank a long 3-pointer to tie it with 1:31 remaining.
Jordan Davis, who finished with a team-high 18 points, was whistled for traveling on the ensuing possession. Grant Dressler then missed a 3-pointer from the corner with 23 seconds to go but the rebound bounced out of bounds off a Canyon Springs player. Guard Taylor Miller made the most of the second chance, draining a 12-foot pull-up jumper for what proved to be the game-winner with 11 seconds left.
Canyon Springs (19-10), which earlier this season became the first Las Vegas public high school to defeat local prep school powerhouse Findlay Prep, then inbounded the ball and rushed it up the court but Davis lost control of the ball and Ryan Vogeli scooped it up setting off a wild on-court celebration by the Panthers.
“Our kids didn’t give up,” Sanchez said. “Canyon Springs didn’t give up either. Everybody that’s playing right now is a great team. We’re just fortunate the way things came out and that we came out with the win. It could have gone either way.”
“It’s a great feeling,” Miller, who finished with a game-high 19 points, said of advancing to the championship game. “The whole process started in the summer with our workouts, coming to practice every day. At the end of practice every day, coach would get us together in a huddle and ask us what our goal was and we’d all say State. To finally be here is a surreal feeling.”
The only drama in the second semifinal game was whether Galena (24-7) would score.
Bishop Gorman, behind five points apiece from Duke-bound Chase Jeter and UNLV recruiting target Stephen Zimmerman, led 19-0 after the first quarter.
Forward Zackary Lessinger, who finished with 17 points, finally got the Grizzlies on the board at the 7:44 mark of the second quarter with a short jumper but the Gaels cruised into halftime with a 32-13 lead and held a 52-27 advantage after three quarters.
Jeter, who had a career-high 35 points in last Friday’s Southern Region title win over Palo Verde, finished with a game-high 23 points while Zimmerman added 18 points and Nick Blair chipped in with eight points.
It was Zimmerman’s 113th career win at Gorman, breaking the school mark set by Noah Robotham last year.
“It’s huge,” Zimmerman said. “I think it hit my parents before it me because my mom was crying a minute ago. Yeah, it is a huge blessing.”
Zimmerman would love nothing better than to add one more win to that total tonight.
“Yeah, that’s the goal,” he said with a smile.