Pitman High’s Zaya Ismail did not have the best week.
Early Sunday morning, his grandpa died at age 85. Three days later, he and his boys basketball teammates faced crosstown rivalry Turlock High and he said his head wasn’t into the game.
On Friday night, he had one of his best performances.
“Emotionally, it was hard for me to play but I got through it,” Ismail said.
The same could be said for the rest of the team, which held on for a 47-45 win over Merced High after enduring a late run and a bad night at the foul line. The Pride managed to force a turnover on the Bears’ final chance with 4 seconds left, thanks to a tricky defensive setup.
But this was Ismail’s night. He finished with a team-best 12 points, all of them coming in the first three quarters. He then received a special round of applause during his team’s post-game speech when his coach, Harvey Marable, talked about how the junior guard was able to get through the week.
Ismail wasn’t at his best in the Pride’s loss to Turlock on Wednesday, the day of his grandpa’s funeral. But he had a couple days to reflect before facing Merced, the defending Central California Conference champion. When game-time approached, Ismail was ready.
So was his team.
After leading for most of the night, the Pride (7-11 overall, 3-3 CCC) began to slip after owning a 42-32 advantage early in the fourth quarter. Merced’s Michael Elsberry nailed a 3-pointer with 56 seconds left that made it 45-42.
Things didn’t get better for the Pride, who made only three of their last eight free throws.
Alex Madden made one of them to give Pitman a 46-42 edge with 13 seconds left, which was more than enough time for the Bears. Elsberry connected on his second 3-pointer of the quarter at the 6-second mark. Zach Olsen then sunk a free throw to make it 47-45, as the junior guard finished with seven points.
The Bears (8-10, 2-4 CCC) had one last chance with 4 seconds left but were left confused after seeing an unusual defensive scheme; the inbounds pass was thrown into the hands of David Gianesin (11 points).
“I think they were shocked by what we set up in,” said Marable. “They thought we were going to be straight man-to-man and we didn’t go straight man-to-man. They set up a play for that and it wasn’t opened.”
The Pitman players celebrated with some of their fans at midcourt — though the win meant a little more to Ismail.
“I was so close to my grandpa growing up,” he said, a little choked up. “He lived two minutes away from me. I always go to his house and he’d tell me stories. The Turlock game was actually the day of his funeral; I wasn’t really totally in the game. Today, I knew I had to come out and do it for my grandpa.”
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