Eris Winder had no interest in gossip or predictions Friday night.
With playoff scenarios weighing heavily on the minds of many, the Palo Verde senior focused on the business at hand.
Winder registered a game-high 29 points to propel the Panthers to a 60-55 victory over Durango in the Northwest League regular-season finale.
The win, coupled with Shadow Ridge’s loss to Arbor View, gave the Panthers (12-10, 7-3) the league’s second seed. Palo Verde went 1-1 against Arbor View. Durango (14-10, 7-3) lost twice to the league-champion Aggies.
Palo Verde will host Legacy at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the opening round of the Sunset Region playoffs.
“I didn’t have any of that in my mind,” Winder said. “We just came in trying to win our game first, then find out after our game the results of Shadow Ridge- Arbor.”
Winder scored 18 points in the first half and Palo Verde executed a stellar transition game en route to a 38-28 halftime lead. The 6-foot-1-inch guard connected on 3 of 5 3-point attempts, and the Panthers shot 51.7 percent (15-for-29) from the field in the first half.
“We moved the ball really well in the first half,” Winder said. “Everybody was energetic since it was Senior Night and all of us really came out to play for our last regular-season game.”
However, that energy hit a speed bump at the start of the second half.
Durango, driving the lane with newfound success, opened the third quarter on a 12-2 run. Tyler Watts’ two-handed jam at the 3:30 mark gave the Trailblazers their first lead at 42-40, swinging the game’s momentum for a brief moment.
“We came out sluggish in the third and they had life.” said Palo Verde coach Paul Sanchez, whose squad snapped a two-game losing streak. “There was a lot at stake tonight. With the way the standings were, there were so many different scenarios.”
The Panthers forced the Trailblazers into six fourth-quarter turnovers, and Palo Verde’s sturdy zone defense helped build a 55-49 lead with less than two minutes to go.
But Durango didn’t back down.
Responding with a 6-0 spurt, the Trailblazers cut the deficit to 56-55 with 33.8 seconds remaining. But Winder converted four free throws in the final 31 seconds to secure the win.
“He understands our system in and out,” Sanchez said of Winder. “He’s the leader and just having that experience for game-time situations. …He knows what to do.”
Junior Eli Edwards supplied 10 points for Palo Verde, which went 12-for-21 from the free-throw line.
Watts finished with 17 points for Durango. Dartangan Rollins scored 13 points for the Trailblazers, going 9-for-10 from the line, and teammate Paris Estrada added nine points.
Durango, which claimed the Northwest’s third seed, will travel to Centennial at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the opening round of the playoffs.