When the burden of winning or losing came down to Russ Ortega--at the free-throw line, no less--it really didn't matter that he had missed his only other attempt of the game.
Ortega, a transfer from Cosumnes River Community College, had spent 40 minutes on Wednesday shooting free throws with Coach Kevin Wilson and assistant Rich Prospero looking on. Several hours later, Ortega made the extra practice pay off as he hit two free throws with three seconds remaining to give Chapman a 74-73 victory over Hawaii Pacific College in a nonconference game in Hutton Sports Center at Orange.
"It was almost like we knew something like that might happen," Wilson said.
And how did Ortega shoot earlier Wednesday?
"Great," Wilson reported. "He must have made 22 in a row."
This time, the Panthers had a little luck down the stretch, in contrast with their opener when they lost to Christian Heritage College at the buzzer.
After Ortega made the free throws, the Sea Warriors called a timeout to set up for a final shot. But the attempt never materialized as Hawaii Pacific passed the ball twice after the inbounds pass and shot after the buzzer.
Chapman won despite having its leading scorer, Kelly Huston, in foul trouble most of the game, and despite facing a nine-point deficit with eight minutes left.
Huston did, however, score 12 points in 20 minutes, including six straight points in 1 1/2 minutes at the beginning of the second half.
He fouled out with 2:18 remaining as the score was tied, 70-70. Last season, the Panthers might have folded, especially when you consider Hawaii Pacific defeated Chapman twice.
But Wilson said 6-foot 8-inch junior transfer Andy Stensgard was the big difference.
"He can really shoot the ball," Wilson said of Stensgard, who had 15 points, all which came in the first half.
"I knew the guy can play and he did a great job."
Stensgard was the leading scorer for Chapman (3-2), and Oretga scored 11. Once again, the Panthers had trouble with the Sea Warriors' leading scorer, Fred Jones. Jones, who had scored 63 points in two games against Chapman last season, had 21 Wednesday. Kip Brown added 17 and Woody Jones scored 14. Hawaii Pacific, an NAIA school from Honolulu, which won its first three games is 3-4.
"I felt we beat a very good team," Wilson said. "It's great practice for getting ready for our conference. They are a great athletic team. We easily could have cracked."