After traveling nearly three hours, the members of the Glendale Panthers 14-and-under boys' basketball team found themselves on the biggest stage — the 24th rendition of the California States Games in San Diego.
The Panthers sought the gold medal for the first time, but their bid fell a shot short. Instead, Glendale grabbed the silver medal for the first time in 14 years.
"It was just a great experience for the players, kind of like a mini Olympics," said Glendale Coach Mike Hailey, whose team suffered a 36-33 loss to favored San Luis Obispo on July 22 in the division's championship contest at Miramar College. "Their mouths were wide open to be a part of something like that.
"Getting the silver medal isn't too bad and they had a lot of fun."
Glendale reached the championship game after posting a 54-50 overtime victory against San Luis Obispo on July 21. In the title game, Hailey said the Panthers endured San Luis Obispo's physical play throughout. Glendale's Arman Atomyan made four three-pointers for a team-high 12 points and teammates Carl Mehrabian and Argin Sarkisian scored eight points apiece to stay close.
Atomyan made a three-pointer with 20 seconds left to bring Glendale to within 35-33. San Luis Obispo then made a free throw with five seconds remaining to make it 36-33, but Glendale's attempt to knot the game didn't come to fruition.
"We started out shaky and I think we expended our energy just to get there," Hailey said. "SLO readjusted and we made some changes and it came down to the last shot."
Atomyan said the state tournament proved to be a challenge.
"I'm very proud that we did well and got a medal," said Atomyan, who will attend Hoover High in the fall. "In the last game, we were ready to go and they were favored to win.
"We almost took it. You are going up against some of the best teams around and we nearly got the gold medal."
Glendale reached the championship game after rallying from an 11-point deficit in the second half to defeat San Luis Obispo the first time the teams played in the double-elimination format.
The Panthers began the tournament July 20 with a pair of games before attending the opening ceremonies at Qualcomm Stadium in front of nearly 20,000 spectators.
The Panthers started with a 45-35 loss against the San Francisco Hoops before regrouping three hours later to register a 57-32 victory against the San Diego Black Mambas. Danny Madden and Pedrum Ghaibi led the Panthers with 11 points each. Mehrabian collected nine points for the Panthers, who got eight points and eight rebounds from Sarkissian, six points from Argam Aghajani and five points from Ian Mocorro.
Glendale then recorded a 40-27 win against the Corona Lakers on July 21. Andre Hovsepian paced Glendale with 15 points. Mehrabian added eight points and seven rebounds for Glendale. Madden scored six points and Sarkisian added six points and 12 rebounds.
After claiming five second-place trophies and one third-place showing this summer, the Panthers finally notched a tournament win on Sunday when they defeated the Santa Ana Aztecs to win the Big City Sports Bash at the Beach in Huntington Beach.
Sarkisian led the way with 20 points and five rebounds. The Panthers also notched wins against the Seal Beach Magic and West Covina Lights Out.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun