The Johnston boys basketball team continued to cruise to close out its regular season, winning its final three games on the schedule and taking a 6-3 record into the postseason.
The Panthers topped Wheeler 73-57 and had four players score double figures. Hunter Remington finished with 21 points while Tom Zednik scored 19, Derek Salvatore 17 and CJ Ragosta 12.
Johnston then topped Lincoln 60-49 in a state championship rematch on Saturday. The Lions beat Johnston last year in overtime of the Division III title game, however, the Panthers would get the better of the matchup this time around.
Johnston took a big lead into halftime and maintained it the rest of the second to secure the win.
“Anytime you go ahead early it helps, but we knew they had Octavio (Brito). But this was a game that these kids wanted, they have been looking forward to this game all season long. Last year Thomas fouled out in the state championship last year with six minutes left, so we wanted him in this game,” said Johnston coach Mark Livingston.
Zednik led the way with 20 points while Remington added 16 and Salvatore 14.
“We are definitely hitting our stride. Our defense has been playing pretty good. My confidence has grown higher, earlier in the season I wasn’t that confident, I wasn’t scoring much. Derek has also taken some weight off of me, then with Thomas, no one can stop him, he’s the biggest player in the state which has also made it easy for us,” said Remington after the win. “It’s a good feeling, we lost a lot of seniors last year so for us to be stepping up is great. It’s been great to take on that leadership role.”
The Panthers wrapped up their regular season on Monday with a 76-52 win over Hope.
Zednik led the Panthers with 26 points while Ragosta chipped in 15 and Salvatore 14.
Livingston has been pleased with the team’s development and feels that it is playing its best basketball at the right time.
“I think there was a lack of practice at the beginning, but things are starting to click now. These kids are really starting to (improve), they have been playing together for a number of years, so we have good chemistry. We are moving the ball offensively, everyone is unselfish. Thomas is one of the best big men in the state, he doesn’t complain about not getting the ball, if he’s getting double teamed he’ll just pass it,” said Livingston.
In their first year in Division II, the Panthers are looking forward to the chance to establish themselves as a top club moving forward.
“This team cares, they really care and they want to leave an impression by winning a championship,” Livingston said. “They want to prove that they belong in Division II and that is something that we spoke about before the season even started. We just need to make sure that we are making smart decisions at the end of the game, playing with our foot on the gas.”