Peoria basketball senior Corey Perry

Peoria basketball senior Corey Perry looks to dribble at practice as the Panthers prepared for a promising season.

Patrick Battillo has watched the film from the 2020 4A basketball championship game more than 15 times since last February.

The coach — now with the “interim” tag removed after a season — of the Peoria Panthers boys basketball team has poured over every possession several times. But it is not an exercise in joy, rather bittersweet memory.

The Panthers earned the No. 1 seed in the 4A bracket, going undefeated in their 2019-20 ranked games and reached the final. They fell 54-48 in overtime to a Salpointe Catholic team that had been within grasp of the trophy for several seasons and simply had more experience.

“It was this big moment for everyone. Some stayed composed, but others reverted back to some bad habits. We gave ourselves a chance still but didn’t make it easy on ourselves at the end, and Salpointe took advantage,” he said.

After the initial shock of the loss subsided, Battillo has used the game film, like that of the rest of the season, to show that Peoria can both dominate and be beaten in 2021, depending on how they execute.

He is not the only one who is using the runner-up finish as motivation, though. The returning players on the Panthers roster, including senior guard Corey Perry, said they have also spent time watching the “painful” game and have attempted growth from it.

“I think about it every day. We didn’t play up to our potential, and it was really hard to watch the film back because we saw those turnovers and mistakes. Now we have to make up for it,” Perry said.

After uncertainty of even being able to play this season due to COVID-19 metrics and a vote by the AIA Executive Board, the Panthers are finally set to play their season and attempt another run at the title game.

Despite losing some of their top players from last year’s season to graduation and transfers, Battillo brings back several solid players and a team that appears ready to take on 4A.

He said the team will likely play fast, with several players that can dribble and pass well, while trying to overcome their size disadvantage on defense with quick hands and feet and effective rebounding.

The Panthers will play several good on-ball defenders, including sophomore Andrew Camacho, but will not have packed gyms cheering them on to provide energy on the defensive end in major moments.

Camacho has encouraged his teammates to raise their intensity in practice so that they can have high stamina and excitement in games with nearly  empty bleachers at home games and no supporters on the road.

“In games like the playoffs last year, maybe you couldn’t hear yourself so much because the fans were so loud. Now it’s going to be a dead quiet gym where the only people cheering for you is yourself. So now you really have to be your own fan and get that energy, because nobody is giving it to you,” he said.

After the season was delayed by the pandemic, Battillo is simply happy to have the chance to compete.

“I’m really proud of this group for the continued adversity they’ve faced and gotten over. I’m just ready to start playing,” the coach said. 

The Panthers were 3-2 going into road battles this week against Desert Edge, Notre Dame Prep and St. Mary’s, returning home to host rival Cactus High Tuesday, Feb. 9.