It only had lost two of its past three games -- a far cry from a gut-wrenching drought -- but one word came to Danny Holzer's mind Friday night when he talked about the situation his Upper St. Clair team was in -- desperate.
Minutes after a 56-47 victory against Canon-McMillan, Holzer kept coming back to that word, a seemingly strange descriptor for a team that entered the game 10-5.
But facing the team they were tied with atop Class AAAA Section 4, this was something he knew the Panthers needed, especially since they were playing at home.
"This is critical," Holzer said. "It's only one game, but it's critical to stay in first and it was critical for our playoff opportunities. If we had lost, we would have been in a desperate situation."
Though it didn't always look certain, Upper St. Clair managed to avoid that undesirable fate.
Trailing, 41-40, in the fourth quarter, the Panthers (11-5, 7-2) scored the next 11 points, giving themselves a decisive push in a game they largely controlled throughout.
Thomas Steve led a balanced scoring attack with 12 points, all of which came from 3-point range.
But while Steve's fourth-quarter 3 gave his team the lead for good, it was two other players who were plagued by early foul trouble -- J.J. Conn and Conor Gallagher -- who put the game away.
Entering the game as the Panthers' leading scorer, Conn didn't score in the game's first 22 minutes. But from that first basket, he went on to score seven more points. Meanwhile, Gallagher scored eight of his 11 in the fourth quarter, including a 6-for-6 performance from the free-throw line.
"I felt pretty comfortable considering we played most of the second quarter without either one of them," Holzer said. "We were still up 3, so that was a key component. If we had gotten behind, that could have been trouble."
Neither team shot particularly well, as the Big Macs (10-6, 6-3) missed 25 of 40 attempts and the Panthers went 18 of 47.
Sam Bohn led Canon-McMillan in scoring, netting a game-high 20 points. Sixteen of those points came in the first half, a large reason his team only trailed, 26-23, at halftime.
The loss ended a run of seven wins in eight games for the Big Macs, but there was a silver lining even in defeat. Due to a scheduling alteration, the teams will play again Monday at Canon-McMillan. A win would negate the shortcomings Friday night and put the teams back in a tie for first place in the section.
In other words, redemption could be nothing more than a 72-hour wait.
"Our mantra has been, 'Get in the shower and wash it off and go to work tomorrow,' " Canon-McMillan coach Rick Bell said. "That's what I told them. I have the utmost respect in the world for Upper St. Clair, but you watched the game -- I don't think it's a case where we can't beat them."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.