SPORTS

Panthers’ remarkable season ends in playoff loss

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It was late in the game. Just a handful of seconds were left until Joel Jimenez’ high school basketball career would be over.

The scoreboard at Scholars Academy’s gym, just a long three-pointer from the sands of Rockaway Beach in Queens, told the grim tale for Jimenez and his IN-Tech Academy teammates: Scholars Academy 46, IN-Tech 40.

It would mark the end of a remarkable season for the Panthers, one that saw them win 12 of their 15 regular-season contests and finish in second place in the Bronx B-1 Division. It also was a season which earned the Panthers their first home playoff game in several seasons. One which saw the Panthers’ gym packed to capacity as they witnessed a 68-41 rout of Hyde Charter School in a Public School Athletic League first-round playoff game.

But now the joyride that had been the 2019-20 season was over for the Panthers, and Jimenez was having a tough time dealing with that reality.

“I just looked up at the scoreboard as I was going back to the bench, and there were already tears coming down my face,” he said. “I tried to hold it in. But once I got into the locker room, that’s when it really hit me that it was all over. I was thinking this was going to be the last time that I got to play with my guys. It was just really sad. Very sad.”

IN-Tech, which went into the game against Scholars as the No. 23 seed in the tournament, was giving the 10th-seeded Seawolves all they could handle in the first half. In fact, the Panthers led 24-22 at mid-game as they looked to spring the epic upset on a Scholars team that entered the game with a 14-1 record and hadn’t experienced a loss since Dec. 14.

But the game got away from the Panthers in the third quarter as they were held to just three points while the Seawolves rallied to take a 34-27 lead heading into the final period. IN-Tech never led again as Scholars’ Nicholas Tung — who drained five three-pointers in the game — bagged two huge three-balls in the fourth, allowing his Seawolves to hold on for the win.

The disappointment brought on by the season-ending loss to Scholars was in direct contrast to the rollicking good times the Panthers experienced in their playoff victory over Hyde earlier in the week. Playing before a vocal packed house, both Jimenez (10 points) and fellow senior Victor Pacheco (11 points) scored in double figures in the final home game of their careers.

Unlike the game with Scholars, this outcome was never in doubt as the Panthers led 35-17 at the half and eventually built leads as large as 30 points in the second half. Junior Donovan Diaz led the Panthers with 13 points and nine rebounds, and Ivan Marcial added 12 points.

After the victory, Pacheco said he couldn’t wait to take on Scholars.

“We have a system, and we believe in that system, so we just trusted it and came out with the win,” Pacheco said. “We don’t worry about the seedings. We just look at who we have to play and do what we need to do.”

The Panthers’ one-sided victory over Hyde had them feeling good about their upset chances against Scholars. But ultimately they came up just a bit short, and all that was left for Jimenez now are memories.

“This place is like a family,” Jimenez said. “I will always come back here to visit. I’ll miss playing as a high school player, but I can always come back. I’m never going to leave this place.”

Jimenez’ four-year ride with the Panthers saw him help lead IN-Tech to a 31-16 record during his career as well as three straight postseason appearances and its first playoff win in several seasons. But it was also the end of a long run for Jimenez and Pacheco, who have been each other’s wingman for almost a decade.

“He’s been my guy since the third grade,” Jimenez said. “We’re family. I’m going to miss all of this and playing with him. But we had a good year. We went 12-3 and made it to the second round of the playoffs, so it was a beautiful season. It was a really good run.”

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