Anthony Hubbard got the ball on the left wing, right in front of the Turlock High boys basketball team bench. He was about to take a shot he and his team aren’t known for, all while in front of another packed Bulldog Arena crowd for Friday night’s crosstown rivalry game against Pitman High.
With a flick of the wrist, he defied all odds.
The 3-pointer went in with about 4 minutes left in the game, when things weren’t looking so promising for a Bulldogs team that had every intention to leave the gym with an outright Central California Conference title. And that’s what they got after overcoming a late-game Pitman lead with a virtually unstoppable run to eventually win 55-47, resulting in Turlock’s fifth league championship in school history.
The Pride — who were down by as many as 11 points — took a 43-42 lead after a jumper and a pair of free throws by Joe Madden, who finished with eight points to go with Zaya Ismail’s team-high of 11. But that’s when Turlock coach Doug Cornfoot knew his team needed a break.
“We told them you gotta have pride in the way you’re playing,” the coach said. “Pitman was beating us with every 50-50 ball. They were beating us in transition. And the guys were starting to get a little panicked and we called timeout. We told them to take a deep breath and play with a little pride, and I think it might’ve helped.”
After that, it was all Turlock.
The Bulldogs (20-6 overall, 14-1 CCC) went on a rampage, outscoring the Pride 13-4 to end the game. And once again, Hubbard stepped up. The senior guard made just his second 3-pointer of the night at about the 4-minute mark, giving his team a 47-43 edge that Pitman didn’t have an answer to.
“We never get scared,” Hubbard said. “All you gotta do is play defense.”
Offensively, he scored a game-high 18 points, with both of his three-pointers coming in the fourth quarter. He didn’t do it alone, as junior teammate Alek Carlson went 3-for-6 behind the 3-point line to finish with 15 points. Ashton Richardson and sixth man Matt Ruesga added 10 points apiece.
In the fourth, the Bulldogs knocked in three 3s. And they were needed, as the Pride (9-18 overall, 5-10 CCC) closed the third quarter with an 11-2 run and a 37-36 edge, thanks in part to Skyler Sexton’s layup and timely 3-pointer during that stretch.
Meanwhile, Cornfoot hinted that he was a little surprised his team made all those 3-pointers, though he didn’t feel the same when it came to Hubbard’s clutch shot late in the fourth.
“We don’t want to be a 3-point shooting team, because we don’t do it that well,” Cornfoot said. “But all season long, (Hubbard) has had a knack to hitting the big 3 when we need it. That was a big 3. It got us up to where we got a little cushion and really focus on our defense.”
For the Bulldogs, the focus will now be the playoffs. The Sac-Joaquin Section Division I Tournament will begin Wednesday at 7 p.m., and Turlock will likely host that first-round game.
That means the Bulldogs have to look ahead, though winning the league title over Pitman in the season finale was pretty sweet.
“It means that we proved to everybody in the CCC that we were going to win,” Hubbard said, while being congratulated by supporters. “We proved to everyone out here that we’re the best in the CCC.”
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