Foul trouble from the big guys late in the game, along with contentious calls from the referees, was the story of Wednesday night’s critical Central California Conference bout between Turlock and Atwater High.
After falling to the Falcons by one point last month, 54-53, the Bulldogs of Turlock looked for the security win along with clinching that third spot in the postseason, while the Falcons were in a must win scenario.
Things didn’t go Turlock’s way, however, and the ‘Dogs dropped their second straight league contest 55-57.
“Atwater played hard tonight. We just didn’t finish,” Turlock head coach Doug Cornfoot said.
In order to have any chance at the postseason and clinch one of the three playoff berths, Atwater needed a victory against Turlock and they did so by coming from behind with arguably some help from the officials and the ability to sink free-throws when needed.
With the win, Atwater (16-10) improved to 4-5 in the CCC, pulling to within a game of third-place Turlock (16-9), which fell to 5-4 in league.
If the Falcons, who beat the Bulldogs in Atwater on Jan. 24, are to claim the conference’s third playoff spot, they must beat crosstown rival Buhach Colony (1-8) on Friday, then have Pitman (2-7) defeat Turlock on Tuesday.
The Falcons were up by two at the half, but a 17-7 run in the third quarter lifted the ‘Dogs up comfortably at 40-32 going into the closing quarter.
A resurgence from the Falcons and their ability to draw the fouls and make clutch free throws down the stretch helped, along with Turlock’s tandem of the big-two, Kenny Fraser and Travis Cook, getting taken out early due to foul trouble.
With one minute left before the third concluded, Cook was subbed out after picking up his fourth foul and wouldn’t return until the final minute of the game.
Kenny Fraser, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer this season at 18 points per game, fouled out with 3:15 to play after scoring just eight points.
With the game tied at 52 apiece, Turlock’s Devan Bains knocked down one of two free throws to take the 53-52 lead with 22 seconds left in regulation.
Atwater worked the ball up court and it was senior guard Hector Rodriguez who drove the lane and made the basket to put his squad up 54-53 with 11 seconds remaining.
The final 11 seconds were filled with six technical foul shots and the ejection of a Turlock High assistant coach.
Atwater was 17-of-23 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter alone (20-of-30 for the contest). The Bulldogs were 4-of-6 from the line.
Turlock's Devan Bains led all scorers with 19, while teammate Demsen McFadden added 16.
For any opportunity to secure that third and final playoff spot in the CCC, the Bulldogs will need to beat their crosstown rivals Pitman High when they meet at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday.