The Panthers won both of their weekend match-ups, pushing their win streak to a season high four games.
A blowout win against lowly Pinedale (0-13, 1-20) and an overtime thriller against contender Lander (8-5, 13-8) pushed Powell into a comfortable position behind the finally-defeated Star Valley Braves.
Record wise, Powell is even with Lyman (who beat Star Valley 54-53 Friday night) but the Panthers own the head-to-head tie breaker by beating the Eagles in both their match-ups this year.
Powell now controls its own destiny, and is able to lock up second place (and avoid an early-round match-up with Star Valley in regionals) by winning each of its two remaining games.
“We knew if we could win out we’d be the No. 2 seed,” Coach Mike Heny said.
Both Cody (5-8, 9-12) and Worland (0-12, 0-20) have fallen to the Panthers earlier this season, giving Powell reason to believe it can end the regular season on a six-game run.
Friday night’s game against Pinedale continued Powell’s streak of beating up on its opponent. The Panthers scored more than 60 points and won by at least 18 for the third straight game.
The Panthers doubled the Wranglers’ score the first two quarters to take a 38-19 halftime lead.
Senior guard Marshall McArthur hit two 3-pointers on his way to a team-leading 17 points. Sophomore Kalei Smith scored 16, including a perfect 7-for-7 from the foul line.
If the Pinedale game was easy, Saturday’s game against No. 3 Lander more than made up for it.
The Panthers needed five extra minutes to edge out a 48-46 win against the Tigers, who are fighting for the same two-seed as Powell.
The intense, closely contested game against a quality opponent provided valuable experience for the Panthers heading into regionals, Heny said.
“Every game is not going to be a blowout,” he said. “The more you’re in (close games) the more calm you are the next time you’re in that situation.”
A Lander victory would have given the Tigers a one-game lead over Powell in the standings plus a 2-0 head-to-head advantage, virtually eliminating the Panthers from second-place contention.
The standings, plus proving themselves better than what they showed during the 55-41 loss to Lander Jan. 25 made Saturday’s game one of the most important of the season.
“They sort of handled us in that first meeting,” Heny said. “So we wanted to go down there and play better for our own sake, our own confidence.”
The game ended Powell’s three-game scoring barrage.
“It was just one of those good old defensive battles,” Heny said. “One of those games where buckets were hard to come by.”
Powell led by as many as 10 during regulation, but fell behind by one in the fourth quarter.
With four seconds left and the No. 2 seed on the line, Smith drove to the basket and tied the game. Lander threw away the following inbounds pass but Powell was unable to finish the Tigers off before the fourth quarter buzzer.
Overtime did not start the Panthers’ way. Lander scored the first five points of the extra period, and things looked bleak for Powell with just under two minutes left, Heny said.
But junior guard Cory Heny hit a three to pull the Panthers to within two. He then stole the ball on Lander’s ensuing possession and found Smith who got fouled and hit two free throws to tie the game.
“All of a sudden in the span of about 10 seconds it was tied back up,” Heny said.
McArthur had another 17-point night and was the only Panther to score double digit points. Smith had eight, Heny’s two 3s gave him six, junior Hayden Cragoe scored five and sophomore Carter Baxter also had five.
Powell hosts 3A East Worland Thursday night in a game that will have no bearing on the 3A West regional seeds. Heny said he doesn’t want to overlook the Warriors, but would like to rest his starters as much as is prudent in preparation for Friday night’s game at Cody.
“(We need to) made sure we’re fresh after a tough physical game against Lander,” Heny said.
Both upcoming games tip off at 7:30 p.m.