Playoffs were not on the line in Wednesday's league final, but bragging rights were for Turlock and Pitman High's varsity boys basketball teams.
Already eliminated from playoff contention after struggling in the Central California Conference this year, Turlock and Pitman knew that the crowd that packed the Pride gym were there to cheer on the town’s two teams which have always provided competitive games.
They proved everyone right, providing spectators with an exciting game that boiled down to the final minutes of action. But by the end of the game, the Bulldogs of Turlock prevailed over the Pride in a 54-50 final.
“My biggest thing is tomorrow I will forget about this game because I am more grateful for the opportunity to have Jake Zylstra on the team,” said Pitman head coach Harvey Marable. “The guys, I like how they competed all year. They never gave up, like Jake never gave up, and they kept fighting and it’s all we could ask for.”
“This is one of the reasons I like coaching. Where can you find an atmosphere like this where both teams are just battling back and forth?” said Turlock head coach Doug Cornfoot. “Every time we play Turlock and Pitman it is like this. But, hopefully, we will learn from this year and carry into next.”
Coming into the game, Pitman, Turlock and Atwater were all tied for fourth with a 4-7 CCC record.
Turlock finished the year with a 5-7 CCC record while Pitman went to 4-8 for the year and 13-12 overall.
Turlock ends the year having won back-to-back games, including three of its last four.
“We knew we weren't going to make the playoffs this year, unfortunately for a guy like Mustafa who had a great year, but all these guys are coming back and we are looking at it like a two-year plan and that is how we are looking at it for a lot of them,” said Cornfoot. “We know what we learned.”
Pitman finished CCC play having lost four of its final five contests.
“There is something that we’ve gone through all year. There was a beginning and fighting back to take the lead and fighting at the end to make it competitive and not give up, that is us,” said Marable. “I know we will be more experienced next year.”
Three of Pitman’s final four losses were decided by six points or less. Wednesday's game was decided by four, but could have gone either way.
Halftime ended with Turlock leading 28-18 after Arik Bains drained a buzzer beater from three-point range.
Pitman was able to come out on fire in the second half and outscored Turlock 14-3 and took the first lead of the game at 32-31.
“There was stretch in the third where we didn't make anything, but we told our guys they will fall but I think they are kinda starting to figure out their potential,” said Cornfoot.
From that point on Turlock took the lead comfortably and held on for the remainder of the game.
Pitman cut the lead to two points in the final 3 seconds remaining, but Cameron Sherwood drained both free throws to give his team a two-possession lead.
“We were close this year but we played too much dumb basketball in those close games we lost,” said Cornfoot. “… we are finding ways to win and it’s showing their maturity as basketball players.”
Turlock's top scorer was Sherwood, who added a team-high 16 points. Bains finished with 11 and Michael Patterson and Adrian Espinoza added nine points apiece.