In a game where it appeared that no lead would be safe, Corey Cinicola found a way to make sure Jim Thorpe's final lead of the night was.
Cinicola drilled a clutch three-pointer and made three free throws in the final two minutes to preserve the Olympians' wild 56-48 Schuylkill League Division I victory over Panther Valley on Tuesday.
On a night where both teams let double figure leads slip away, Cinicola's play down the stretch was a welcome relief to Jim Thorpe head coach Brian Carroll.
"Corey is someone who we want to have the ball in clutch situations," said Carroll. "He showed why tonight. He's very calm under pressure. Nothing rattles him."
After trailing by as many as 12 points in the opening quarter, Jim Thorpe used its fullcourt press to quickly get back in the game.
The Olympians (7-1, 3-0) rallied for a five-point halftime lead and stretched that advantage to 43-33 late in the third quarter.
This time it was the Panthers who stormed back as Logan Stano scored nine points during a 13-2 run that gave them a 46-45 lead with 3:53 remaining.
"Panther Valley got off to a great start, but we switched to our press and that allowed us to battle back and take control of the game – or at least I though we had control," said Carroll. "You have to give Panther Valley credit because they could have quit when we were up big in the third quarter.
"But they hung in and eventually rattled us a little bit in the fourth quarter."
After a nice inside move by Stano gave the Panthers the lead midway through the fourth quarter, Sam Lux answered to put Jim Thorpe ahead 47-46 with three minutes remaining.
That's when Cinicola took over. With the Olympians still leading by a point, he drilled his third three-pointer of the night to give Thorpe some breathing room with 1:38 left. Over the next minute, he hit three big free throws to stretch the lead to 54-48 and put the game out of reach.
"Our kids did a nice job battling back, but we couldn't finish when we took the lead," said Panther Valley head coach Pat Crampsie. "A couple of things hurt us down the stretch.
"First, Cinicola made some big plays. He stepped up with the game on the line. He hit that huge three-pointer, made his foul shots and got some big rebounds
"Second, we had too many empty possessions. We turned the ball over and when we didn't, we weren't getting good looks. Logan [Stano] did a great getting us back into the game, but we weren't disciplined enough on offense to get him touches in the final minutes."
Cinicola, who finished with a team-high 18 points and also hauled down eight rebounds, said he was confident he could deliver coming down the stretch.
"As a senior, that's what the team looks at me to do," he said. "I really try to work on my foul shooting as much as possible at practice. You aren't going to win close games if you can't convert from the line.
"As far as the three-point shooting is concerned, it's something that I wanted to improve on from last year. I hit a three in our opening game this season and I think that help my confidence. I'm been feeling better and better with my shooting range as the season has gone on."
In addition to Cinicola, Jim Thorpe got 13 points from Rashid Epps and 11 from Lux.
For Panther Valley (5-3, 1-1), which had a five-game winning streak snapped, Stano turned in a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Zach Stanko added 10 points.
"Our effort was there as it had been in every minute of every game this season," said Crampsie. "But our execution, composure and poise need to get better.
"This stings because we had an opportunity to win and didn't get it done. Jim Thorpe is a very good team, but playing them tough isn't good enough. We expected to win and didn't."
Jim Thorpe won the JV game, 60-39. JaQuan Brown led the Olympians with 13 points. Nate Mathewson had 17 for the Panthers.
DiBonifazio 2-0-0-5, Mickens 0-0-0-0, Richardson 1-2-2-5, Lux 5-0-1-11, Epps 5-3-8-13, Cinicola 6-3-4-18, Johnson 2-0-2-4. TOTALS: 21-8-17-56.
Stanko 4-2-7-10, Ogozalek 0-0-0-0, Mathewson 0-0-0-0, Revell 1-0-0-2, Picht 0-2-2-2, Lewis 4-0-0-9, Mitchell 3-0-0-6, Stano 9-1-1-19. TOTALS: 21-5-10-48.
Jim Thorpe 9 21 13 13 - 56
Panther Vy. 16 9 13 10 - 48
Three-pointers: JT – Cinicola 3, DiBonifazio 1, Richardson 1, Lux 1. PV – Lewis 1.