Just seconds after his team survived one of the season’s closest calls, Turlock High boys basketball reserve Cristian Jinenez let out an excited “woo!” Even from his point of view, he knew this win was big. So his gesture could’ve also been easily taken as a sigh of relief.
On Wednesday night, the Bulldogs did not thrash their opponents in double-digit fashion. Their opponents were challengers from beginning to end.
What else would you expect from a Pitman High-Turlock High rivalry clash?
In the end, it was the Bulldogs who pulled through late with a couple big shots from senior guard Anthony
Hubbard and clutch free throws by sophomore guard Da’Shawn Holcombe to win 48-40 in front of a pleased audience of thousands inside Bulldog Arena.
“We knew we were expected to be the better team,” Bulldogs senior center Connor Pearson said, “but we knew it was a crosstown rivalry and anything could happen.”
“I guess we got a little too big-headed,” Holcombe added. “I think we thought we could come in here and take it away from them, but they battled for it.”
With a more athletic and bigger team, Turlock (10-7 overall, 4-1 in the Central California Conference through Friday) entered the rivalry meeting with a better record. Pitman, on the other hand, came in with a struggling record and undersized players. It didn’t matter.
The Pride (6-11, 2-3 CCC through Friday) hung in there.
They were down 23-13 after a nifty drive by Hubbard with 1 minute, 20 seconds left in the first half. This was a motivated Bulldogs team that had lost in the final seconds to Golden Valley High on Jan. 14, so they said before Wednesday that they wanted to redeem themselves against Pitman.
However, the Bulldogs were missing many of their attempts en route to a 19-for-50 night from the field. They also turned the ball over against Pitman’s zone defense that limited their drives to the hoop.
“They see a loose ball and they’re kicking it out of bounds,” Turlock coach Doug Cornfoot said of his players’ tendencies. “We’re on a fast break and we throw it away. You start to think, ‘Is it one of those nights where things aren’t gonna go your way?’”
The Pride also had their motivations. In this crosstown series, the other team has been the dominant one, with Turlock having a 14-1 landslide of an advantage heading into Wednesday. But things began to look promising for the Pride in the third quarter when they held the Bulldogs to just 5 points.
“We switched to a zone,” Pitman senior center David Gianesin said. “That mixed it up. That helped our defense. That was what got us in the game.”
Meanwhile, the Pride’s offense was explosive. They outscored Turlock 13-5 in the third, a run that carried over to the final period. Senior guard Alex Madden managed to knock in eight of his team-high 10 points in a span of 3 minutes, including a 3-pointer that was at least a couple steps behind the arch to give Pitman a 35-33 edge with 6:45 left.
After Matt Ruesga’s jumper inside the paint to tie it at 39, Turlock’s Hubbard took over. The senior guard scored six of his game-high 16 points in the fourth, with his bucket about a minute left giving the Bulldogs a 44-38 lead. After that, Holcombe, who finished with 8 points (as did Ashton Richardson), sunk three of six attempts from the foul line to seal the win.
The sophomore managed to execute those shots in front of an intimidating environment. Bulldog Arena almost reached its capacity, with a Turlock student cheering section sporting a row of students who each had a letter of their school’s name painted on the front of their bodies. As the final seconds ticked, they chanted “This is over! This is over!”
And once it was over, Jinenez let out his celebratory “woo!”
“Every game is like this,” Cornfoot said. “It doesn’t matter who got talent and who got athletes, who got basketball players. Each time you play, it’s going to be a bloodbath.”
The two teams play again on Feb. 2 and Feb. 18.
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