The Paschal Panthers opened their season with a hard-fought 47-40 loss to the Irving MacArthur Cardinals at Paschal’s Charlie Turner Gym Tuesday night.

A large and rowdy purple-clad student section provided home-field advantage as the Panthers stayed in the game to the end. But when the final buzzer sounded, Paschal could not do enough to close out the game.

“I’m very proud of how my guys fought. They didn’t lay down and that’s just a testament to the hard work we’ve put in since last year,” head coach Ed King said. “We’re just going to get better from here.”

Six-foot-6 post Tavarius Shine led the way for the Cardinals, hitting 10 of 16 shots to score a game-leading 23 points. Shine was three for five from the free-throw line and added a steal and a block.

“[Shine] is good. He’s a big man who can handle the ball and that’s going to be tough for us with matchups, but we’ve just got to work on our whole defense. We’ll be working on that in practice and we can handle that,” senior guard Ryan Fees said.

Fees was on fire for the Panthers. He nailed five out of eight attempts from the 3-point-line en route to a team-high 15 points. He also grabbed four rebounds and two steals and had two assists and a block.

“I’ve been working on my stroke a lot this summer and getting in the weight room,” Fees said. “That’s how I can help this team — by knocking down shots. So that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

King said that Fees has made considerable improvement since last year, losing bad habits and becoming a senior leader on this team.

“What you saw tonight is the Ryan Fees that I envisioned,” King said. “Just night and day from last year. He played his butt off and I’m proud of him.”

Senior forward Scott Smith also had a big game for the Panthers, snagging team-high six rebounds. Smith had a strong fourth quarter with five points, a block, and two steals.

Key to Paschal’s loss was the absence of senior forward Luke Myers and 7-foot senior center Trey Watts. Myers attended his grandfather’s funeral in Nebraska, while Watts had to sit out because of academics.

Missing two senior leaders in the paint severely limited the Panthers’ depth and hurt them down the stretch against MacArthur. Paschal was missing two big rebounders in Watts and Myers, which significantly contributed to the loss against the Cardinals. Both players are expected to be back for next week’s game against Irving Nimitz.

King said that the Panthers need to limit turnovers and get more rebounds moving forward. He hopes that the addition of Watts and Myers will help the Panthers to crash the boards. King also wants to see improved shot-selection from his players, who only shot 36 percent from the field as a team.

The Panthers did not dwell on the loss, though. They were swift to find positives from the MacArthur game and looked to improve before next week.

“It feels good. We’re starting to build chemistry as a team and we played well without two of our starters,” sophomore guard Xavier Meyers said. “We’ll make it.”

“We’re not going to hang our heads. We worked hard and we’re going to be ready for district and playoffs when it really counts,” Smith said.

King, who is in his second year as coach of the Panthers, saw Paschal double its win total last season from 2009. King now has the team focused to take the next step with one goal in mind.

“Our goal right now, we’ve been saying it since day one, is playoffs. That’s what we’re looking at. So every game is getting us closer to that goal,” King said.

King has the Panthers drinking the purple Kool-Aid and his players are confident and prepared for what lies ahead.

“We’re going to fight to the end,” Fees said. “We’ve got seven or eight guys [on this team] who will never give up until we get that playoff spot.”

The Panthers quest for the postseason continues when they head east to face the Irving Nimitz Vikings on Monday, Nov. 21, at 2:30.