MODESTO — Gregori High l has had a very successful 2012-13 athletic campaign, especially when you consider the third-year school nailed up four Modesto Metro Conference championship banners in its first season with seniors.
Only trouble is, seniors don't come back next year.
Standout guard Maryssa McDuffy, the lone senior among Gregori's starting five and virtually impossible to replace played in her final prep game as No. 9 Florin upset third-seeded Gregori 68-56 in the quarterfinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 girls basketball playoffs Thursday.
"I think in the end we just weren't playing with heart," said McDuffy, who averaged 24.5 points per game this season and handled the bulk of the ballhandling duties. "We just fell apart in the last couple of minutes."
The teams were tied 15-15 after the first quarter and 30-30 at the intermission.
The Jaguars were able to frustrate the quicker Panthers by utilizing a zone defense a look they seldom employ.
"I thought that really took us out of our game," said Florin coach Larry Price. "I just had to get it into (the players') heads that we had to get back to being who we are and doing what we do."
It would take a while for that message sink in. In the meantime, with the Panthers aware of McDuffy's every move, opportunities were created for junior center Amber Hilvers.
The 6-foot-2 Hilvers (21 points) scored eight points in the stanza including the team's final six as the Jaguars forged a 44-41 lead going into the final eight minutes.
Hilvers appeared poised to take over the fourth quarter, too, when she sank a 15-footer to open the frame.
The five-point cushion was the largest for either team to that point. But those would be the last points Hilvers would score. In fact, other than a 3-pointer off the glass by McDuffy, no Gregori player would score over the next six minutes as Florin torched Gregori with a 22-3 run.
"They're just a great team," said Gregori coach Jeff Salyer, whose own team finishes the season at 25-2. "They play in a league with Kennedy (No. 3 in the D1 playoffs) and Sacramento (No. 1 in D2). They're a great team.
"We got cold, they got hot and we were not contesting their shots enough."
Panthers guard Deja Conger, who put teeth on edge in the Gregori gym with her sing-song screech of "D-uuuuuup! D-uuuuuup!" every time Florin was on defense (Conger gave it up about five minutes in), scored 14 of her 24 points during the blitz.
Conger's 3-pointer with six minutes to play gave Florin a 47-46 lead. After McDuffy's you-gotta-call-that 3-pointer recaptured the lead for Gregori, Conger answered to put Florin ahead 50-49. For good.
The Jags wouldn't tickle the twine again until McDuffy scored with 1:36 to play. That merely cut the deficit to 12, and Conger iced it by hitting six of seven free throws in the final 57 seconds.
"Twenty-five and two ... I'll take that," said Salyer of his team's standard-setting season. "We've only got one senior, but that will be a hard one to replace. We'll retool the best we can."