REGION — With Vista and Poway locked in a 49-49 tie with less than two minutes remaining in a critical North County Classic matchup, the host Panthers turned to the player they have turned to time and again the past two seasons.
And Taurus Samuels delivered.
The 5-foot-11 junior point guard shook off a rough shooting performance to score nine points over the final two minutes to propel Vista to a 58-54 win over Poway on their way to a berth in the North County Classic championship game against La Jolla Country Day.
Samuels finished with a game-high 20 points after the final push, which included consecutive jump shots and converting five free throws down the stretch.
He was named to the All-Tournament Team after averaging 20 points per game in the four games leading up to the championship, which included 40-point routs over Mission Vista and Sage Creek and a 75-64 semifinal victory over a senior-laden Rancho Bernardo squad.
The Panthers received its toughest challenge in pool play from the Titans, which held a 43-42 lead at the end of three quarters. Led by senior guard Derek Sit and junior forwards Zach Reiter and Jordan Cooke-Harper, the Titans pounded the smaller Panthers in the paint to keep the margin close.
Also hurting the Panthers was the loss of junior guard Isaiah Morris, who didn’t play in the second half after aggravating a groin injury he suffered in the Mission Vista game.
Morris had blossomed into the Panthers leading scorer early in the season.
Morris returned for the semifinals against Rancho Bernardo and contributed 15 points in the win, and scored 14 points in the team’s final game, a 56-54 championship loss to La Jolla Country Day.
North County Classic All Tournament Team:
Mission Vista: Cade Twyman
La Costa Canyon: Logan Wazny
Sage Creek: Teiyler Scott
Rancho Buena Vista: Trevor Sunseri
Ramona: Blake Seits
Mt. Carmel: Nathan Middleton
Rancho Bernardo: JJ Overton
Poway: Derek Sit
San Marcos: Kody Clouet
Temecula Valley: Bryce Denham
La Jolla Country Day: Matt Bender
Vista: Taurus Samuels