There are eight seniors on the Horizon boys basketball team with good memories.
Seared into their subconscious was a loss to Montclair Prep in the Southern California Regional playoffs when they were just sophomores.
Those seniors and the rest of the Panthers will have a chance to totally put that memory to rest after downing upstart San Gabriel Academy 54-36 Saturday night in the Southern California Regional Division V championship at Cathedral Catholic.
It was Horizon’s seventh straight win and its first chance to capture a state title since the 2005-06 season. The Panthers play Northern California champ Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame at 10 a.m. Friday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Horizon used its up-tempo game to counter a slow-down, tall team that led until 4:21 remained in the third quarter when Horizon (22-11) went on a 15-2 run to open a 10-point lead and never trailed again.
“The difference is we’re the best conditioned team in the state — make that the nation,” said coach Tyrone Hopkins, who is looking for that state title in his fifth year as head coach.
Indeed, Horizon outscored the Eagles 35-14 in the second half even though Josh Ajayi led all scorers with 21 points.
Asked at what point the Panthers turned from a sub-.500 team that played Division I, II, III and IV teams all year, and Hopkins had a ready answer.
“When we beat Hoover, 91-90,” Hopkins replied without hesitation. “The football players, Markel Byrd and Darren Carrington, finally had their basketball legs and the others were confident in their roles.”
Three of those seniors, Cody Underwood (17 points), Byrd (12) and Carrington (10) accounted for 39 of the Panthers’ points.
And now they’ll be playing on the biggest stage of all, going for the school’s fourth state title.