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Panthers control boards to bounce Red Devils in fast-paced contest

VISTA – In a matchup between two of the fastest teams in the section on Tuesday, it was actually size that made the difference. Fifth-seeded Vista used its height advantage to dominate the glass and outlast 12th-seeded Sweetwater 77-60 in the first round of the Division I playoffs.

“Size really hasn’t been a strong point for us this season,” said Vista head coach Charlie Mercado. “We wanted to crash the boards hard and we did a good job of that tonight – especially on the offensive glass.”

Vista (23-7) had a 23-21 lead after a fast-paced, back and forth first quarter. Early on Sweetwater (18-11) created problems for the Panthers with its uptempo attack and full-court pressure.

“It was sort of different – I wasn’t used to playing a team as fast as us,” said Vista senior guard John Fletcher. “Throughout the whole game we were really going up and down, up and down.”

After the opening quarter Vista settled in, and the Panthers opened the second quarter with a 12-2 run to take control of the game. In the final minute of the first half, Vista senior forward Sedrick Childress converted a three-point play that put the Panthers ahead 40-29 at halftime.

“It was just adjusting to the speed of the game a little bit – in our league we don’t have any teams that are that fast,” Mercado said. “We caught our second wind and were able to adjust to them a little bit.”

In the second half Vista and Sweetwater played evenly, but the Red Devils couldn’t get closer than eight points. The Panthers pulled away late to advance with a 17-point victory.

“We didn’t slow it down – we just kept on going,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher led Vista with 18 points and finished as one of five Panthers in double figures. Vista’s frontcourt – 6-foot-3 Childress, 6-foot-4 senior forward Patrick Johnson, and 6-foot-2 senior forward Collin Nyenhuis – controlled the boards throughout the game against smaller, guard-oriented Sweetwater.

“We didn’t box out, and they’re big and long and coming up and snagging rebounds right over our heads,” said Sweetwater head coach Jesse Aguirre. “They hit the boards really hard and they should – they see us out there and we’re not a big team.”

Vista advances to face 13th-seeded and league rival Escondido (11-18) on Friday in the Division I quarterfinals. The Panthers have won seven straight games, and have the talent and athleticism to make a section title run in a wide-open bracket.

“Winning a league championship was a goal of ours, and getting to Jenny Craig is a goal of ours,” Mercado said. “We’re not surprised by this, and we’ll keep riding the momentum as far as we can take it.”

“I think we should make a deep run in CIF,” Fletcher said. “We just have to play our game, not try to get outside of our game and just throw up random shots – just play smart, hard, and with intensity.”

Gonzalez scored a game-high 24 points for Sweetwater – including six-three pointers – and sophomore guard Spencer Mattox finished with 14. The South Bay League co-champion Red Devils were making their first playoff appearance in four seasons.

“We played hard and played until the final buzzer – that’s all I can ask for,” Aguirre said. “What a season for these kids. They put a banner on the way for the first time in 21 years and we still can’t get over that – what a big accomplishment.”

Vista – 77 (23-17-19-18)

Fletcher 18, Co. Nyenhuis 14, Arnold 13, Childress 13, Johnson 4 (starters) Stoner 12, Anderson 3

Sweetwater – 60 (21-8-19-12)

Gonzalez 24, Mattox 14, Bautista 13, Cadua 6, Middleton 3 (starters)


Pictured: Sweetwater guard C.J. Cadua elevates to the basket in front of Vista forward Patrick Johnson

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