For all but about two minutes of last night's Panther Valley Tip-Off Tournament game, the Marian Colts stood toe to toe with the Panthers before succumbing, 71-63.

"At that point their seniors took over the game and our inexperience showed," said Marian coach John Patton. "Overall though I am happy the way we played most of the game."

The game featured a showcase of marquee players from each team and neither player disappointed the crowd. Panther Valley's Jake Szczecina, who averaged nearly 13 points a game last season scorched the nets for a game high 32 while Marian's senior point guard, Anthony Agosti, the Colt's only returning starter from last season's 18-6 team, threw down 26 points. Both top scorers got off to slow starts with Agosti having only three of his team's 15 first quarter points while Szczecina scored only nine of the Panther's 29 first half points.

The game was fast paced as Marian jumped out to an early 12-8 lead on a basket by Dominic Mussoline with 3:26 to go in the first. The Panthers, on two threes from senior guard Kyle Ferryman and a layup at the buzzer, took a one point edge after the quarter. In the next eight minutes, Agosti took charge with a 12 point explosion to give Marian a 31-29 lead the break.

PV coach Pat Crampsie was not happy with his team's intensity and he told them so.

"Our rebounding was poor, our defense was a step slow and they were getting to the loose balls," he said. "I told them it was going to be a dog fight in the second half and we better tough it out.'

The third quarter delivered strong physical play from both teams as the lead switched back and forth several times. Agosti was held to one basket by the Panther defense, but Mussoline picked up the slack with nine points to help Marian maintain a 44-43 lead after three.

The fourth quarter stayed close until PV's seniors scored some dramatic baskets to pull their team away. With three minutes to go, Luke Stano scored on a nifty over the shoulder shot to put his Panthers up by two and ten seconds later, Ferryman drove the lane and scored on a fall down layup to open the margin to six at 63-57. Then Szczecina drilled seven free throws in the final two minutes to ice the game for Panther Valley.

Asked how his game has improved from last season, Szczecina was quick to answer. "I really worked hard on my conditioning in the off-season," he said. "On the floor, I spent a lot of time on my inside game. Coach gave me the keys to the offense and I will do what I have to do to help my team win."

"Jake took over when we needed him," said Crampsie. "He has the ability to will our team to success at both ends of the floor."

"They are very disciplined as to what they want to do," said coach Patton about the Panthers. "We ran a lot of players in and out of the game and we had a good chemistry, but it will be a learning curve for us for awhile."

Patton found both good and bad from the game's outcome. "We found some scoring to help Anthony, but we need to know how to change the pace of a game. We have to pull the ball back and not force shots up like we did in the final minutes. The bottom line is 63 points should give us a win on most nights, but we can't give up 71. Remember that last year we held most teams to under 50."

Crampsie likes his senior leadership and believes his team's conditioning was a factor at the end, but he had high praise also for the Colts.

"Give Marian credit," he said. "They played most of the game like they had as much experience as we do."

The Panthers will play Mahanoy Area in the tournament championship game tonight at 7:30.

MARIAN

Agosti 8-8-10-26, N. Agosti 2-0-3-4, Vercusky 3-1-2-7, Wesner 2-2-2-6, Mussoline 4-3-3-12, Sweitz 3-0-4-6, Legath 0-2-2-2 Karnish 0-0-0-0, Kuczynski 0-0-0-0, Inama 0-0-0-0, Weber 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 22-16-26-63.

PANTHER VALLEY

Szczecina 8-13-15-32, Stano 3-0-1-8, Ferryman 4-5-8-15, Kusko 2-0-0-5, Dubosky 1-2-4-4, Vermillion 1-0-0-3, Hudicka 2-0-0-4, Nase 0-0-0-0, Keo 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 21-20-28-71.

Marian 15 16 13 19 63

Panther Vy. 16 13 14 28 71

Three pointers: M- A. Agosti 2; Mussoline 1; Pa. Val- Ferryman 2; Szczecina 3; Stano 1; Kusko 1.