Of course the Panthers heard the chatter. Of course they knew they were desperate for a win in the worst way possible. Of course they were motivated by Burlingame teams of the past, to not let the dominance of their rivals that they had built over the years slip away.
The Panthers’ first league win wasn’t going to come against Hillsdale or Woodside, Carlmont or even Mills. It was going to come against their age-old rivals, the San Mateo Bearcats, on their home court in front of a lively Friday night crowd that helped turn their desperation into a hard-fought, 55-52 victory.
The win was Burlingame’s 29th straight against the Bearcats, a team Burlingame has not lost to since 2000. Their overall record is now 5-12, and they are 1-4 in PAL South play.
And yet, this had the feel of some of Burlingame’s previous league games, when the Panthers would jump out to an early lead, only to have their shooters go cold in the second half and the other team come back and gradually take control. Last Wednesday was the worst of all, as Burlingame led Carlmont by eight at halftime and seven after three quarters, eventually losing in double overtime.
Friday night was a struggle. Burlingame took the lead midway through the first quarter and held it the vast majority of the game. San Mateo kept cutting into pieces of its deficit but could never pull ahead. During a stretch that spanned the third and fourth quarters, however, the Panthers built up a 10-point lead, and it seemed they were on their way to snapping their own seven-game losing streak and extending the program’s winning streak against San Mateo.
Paulie Ferrari got a couple of three-pointers to go in. Gavin Coleman had another in the opening sequence of the second half. Robert Uhrich had a career night, with 10 points, four rebounds and two steals. Cal Spurlock had a team-leading 18 points, 12 of them on free throws.
But then the seemingly inevitable happened. San Mateo finally started to get some shots to fall and turned up the pressure on defense. Before long, the Bearcats had scored 10 straight points and tied the game at 46 with under two minutes to play. The Panthers and their fans had to be thinking, it’s happening again.
But even in a down year, desperation, a lively crowd, and a rival opponent kept Burlingame going. Branden Abuyaghi hit a floater on the Panthers’ next possession to give his team the lead back. Burlingame made enough free throws down the stretch to come away with a three-point win.
Maybe the streak will end later this year on San Mateo’s home court. Or maybe the Panthers can find a way to beat the Bearcats again and keep it going for another year. Either way, it has been quite a historic run of dominance.
And with two winnable games this week against Aragon and at Capuchino, who knows? Maybe this win will be a spark plug for the Panthers and help turn their season back around.