(EDITOR'S NOTE: With graduations scheduled for this week, the following question was posed to assistant sports editor Scott Kindberg: "What was your most memorable sports moment during the 2013-14 school year?" Because it had to involve an event in which he personally covered, the choice wasn't really that difficult at all. Following is his choice.)
For me to gain admittance to the Buffalo State Sports Arena to cover the boys basketball playoffs each March, I have to walk from the main parking lot to the rear of the building, descend a few stairs, open the door and affix my name and my media affiliation into a notebook. Before I can walk into the gym, though, the attendant at the table always stamps my hand and offers a friendly salutation.
It's been nearly four months since my last visit, but I'm going to suggest that the always-accommodating Buffalo State game-day crew make a personnel change for the 2015 boys tournament: With no disrespect to the kind soul who has manned that will-call spot for years, might I suggest that Jamestown High School's Zack Panebianco be assigned the job of media contact should the Red Raiders find their way back to the SUNY school next year.
Jamestown Zach Panebianco drives to the basket against Greece Athena in a memorable game on March 8.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
Why, you ask? Well, the answer is quite simple: By virtue of his play on Western New York's biggest hoops stage the last few years, Panebianco has come to know the local media pretty well, and vice versa.
And, given the stakes this season, the performance he put on against Section 5's Greece Athena in the Class AA Far West Regional on March 8 ranks as one of the best I've seen in the 31 years I've been chronicling the athletic exploits of area athletes.
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Last December, the Red Raiders suffered a 20-point loss to Greece Athena at McElrath Gymnasium.
Panebianco wouldn't allow the Trojans to complete a season sweep.
The junior guard poured in 34 points, including 22 in the second half, grabbed eight rebounds and added three steals to propel the Red Raiders to a 61-52 victory. The win vaulted Jamestown, then 18-4, into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association final four in Glens Falls for the second time in four seasons.
''It's really hard to put into words after such a big win,'' Red Raiders coach Ben Drake told me after the game. ''To be able to make the trip to Glens Falls obviously is every team's dream when you start the season.''
The young man who helped Jamestown's dream come true was Panebianco.
The 5-foot-10 junior has had his share of remarkable games at Buffalo State in the last three years, but he saved his best for just the right time.
All told, Panebianco shot 10-of-20 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from the arc; connected on all 10 of his free throws; and was a one-man wrecking crew after intermission when he scored 22 of Jamestown's 27 points and nailed all four of his treys. And, as has become his custom, he was at his best when the game was hanging in the balance.
Once leading 14-0 lead to the start the game, 20-5 after the first quarter and a 34-22 at halftime, Jamestown saw its lead trimmed to as few as five points (36-31 with 5:20 remaining in the third quarter) and was still clinging to a 45-38 lead with inside a minute left in the period.
Jamestown's next three field goals were all courtesy of Panebianco treys. The first came with four seconds remaining in the third quarter and was followed by bombs from the wing a minute apart midway through the final period. The final one gave Jamestown a 54-42 lead with 4:41 remaining and some much-needed breathing room.
''The kid is unreal,'' Drake told me. ''I can't say enough about him. I've coached some pretty good players over the years, but he's right up there with the best of the best. He's just ice. He lives for the big moment and lives for big games. Whenever we need a shot, we just need to get the ball in his hands, and he comes through. He's just unbelievable.''
The Red Raiders didn't score another field goal the rest of the game, but connected on 7-of-10 free throws down the stretch, including 4-of-4 from Panebianco, to close it out.
And although it was the best game of his remarkable career, he wasn't about to gloat at game's end. A trip to Glens Falls was on the horizon - Jamestown would ultimately lose in the state championship game - and Panebianco had other team goals to accomplish.
''We're sick of being close,'' he told me. ''We want to be the best, and that's exactly what we're going for. We're not satisfied yet. We'll study up on whoever we play. Underdog or not, we like each position and we like how we're playing right now.''
Everyone who saw Panebianco on that magical night in early March had to like how he played. It was, in my opinion, the best performance I personally covered for The Post-Journal in the last nine months.