D.J. Stennis probably should have felt pressure Monday.
The Palo Verde senior guard had a rough first half in his team’s Class 4A state play-in game against Liberty at Arbor View, and his Panthers led by only three points going into the fourth quarter.
Instead of nervously awaiting the start of the quarter with his teammates, Stennis took time to go ask the public address announcer about his day.
“I just try to loosen everybody up,” said Stennis, who hit a pair of game-clinching free throws with 10.8 seconds to play, lifting Palo Verde to a 68-63 win and a berth in the state semifinals. The Panthers (23-5) will face Eldorado at 4:40 p.m. on Thursday at Orleans Arena.
“I probably should have felt some pressure, but I really didn’t,” said Stennis, who went to the free-throw line with his team leading 66-63. He was just 1-for-6 from the stripe before sinking the two shots.
“I had too much adrenaline or something earlier,” he said. “I try to keep my team poised.”
The Panthers’ win came after Bishop Gorman (28-4) downed Silverado 74-45 in the girls play-in game. Gorman earned a state semifinal date with Green Valley at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Stennis scored only one point in the first half of the boys game as the Panthers struggled.
Palo Verde made just 11 of 34 shots in the first half and trailed 30-27.
“We were really rushing at the beginning of the game,” Panthers coach Jermone Riley said. “We played too much one on one. We made adjustments in the second half.”
That included Stennis, who scored 10 third-quarter points as Palo Verde moved into a 48-45 lead.
“He was huge,” Riley said. “We needed him to push but also be under control.”
Kenneth Peters’ 3-pointer with 23 seconds remaining brought Liberty (18-9) to within 65-63.
A free throw by Bronston Abad increased the lead to 66-63 before a Liberty turnover and foul sent Stennis to the line.
Moses Morgan had 16 points, Stennis 13 and Drew Topham 12 for Palo Verde.
Kenneth Peters had 20 points, Milos Knezevic added 17 points and 11 rebounds and Cameron Peters scored 14 points for Liberty.
In the girls game, Gorman raced to a 19-2 lead and never looked back.
The Gaels went inside early and often, scoring 23 baskets with a mix of good entry passes and penetration.
“We felt we needed to come out strong and set the tempo,” Gorman coach Sheryl Krmpotich said.
Aaryn Ellenberg led Gorman with 18 points. Dannielle Diamant added 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Yahindra Edwards scored 14.
Gorman committed only seven turnovers, including just one in the first half.
Mikayla Thielges scored 14 points to lead Silverado (24-7). Alena Evans and Shea Collins each added 13.
Contact reporter Bartt Davis at bdavis@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4587.In-depth high school sports coverage