The Hilmar High boys varsity basketball team suffered a devastating loss in the closing seconds of Friday's matchup against Trans Valley League foe Escalon High.
After a stiff start from Hilmar in the opening quarter, head coach Paul Willis' team stepped their game up to take a one-point lead by the end of the first half and kept a steady pace up until the closing seconds.
With less than 10 seconds left in regulation and Hilmar up by two-points, Vincent Bacay of Escalon took a perfect pass from teammate Marvin Lawrence and then sank a three-point shot to win it 59-58.
“We played a really good ball game and got down early in a hostile environment and they put a lot of pressure on us and we got back into it,” said Willis, who was still in disbelief minutes after the game ended. “We took away their first choice shooter who passed it out and he hits it, what do you say to that?”
If you are a fan of a good high school sports rivalry, then Tuesday night's contest was just that.
There was a fast-tempo style of play from both sides, which executed their offenses with near perfection bouncing back and forth with nothing but fast break points for a large period of the game.
Escalon took a four-point lead by the end of the third after sneaking its way into a 14-9 run to take a 40-36 lead.
The 'Jackets knew what needed to be done and they fought back as hard as they could with hustle plays from various players.
Alex Chavez, Hudson Harris, Nino Ta-a, Kole Gaglio and Alec Cano all played strong on Tuesday for their 'Jackets, but it just wasn't enough.
The buzzer-beating loss gave the 'Jackets their third league loss of the season and they have now lost six of their last seven games.
“It was a physical game. I thought we played well through adversity; we got a couple questionable calls here and there,” Willis said. “Bottom line is if we make some free throws down the stretch, which we didn't, then it's a different outcome. We have to do a better job."
Cano finished with a game-high 13 points, Gaglio was second (12), Chavez tallied 10 and Ta-a ended with eight points.
The Hilmar defense was on point after causing Escalon to turn the ball over 24 times and forcing them to shoot 34 percent from the field.
“I told our guys to keep their heads up,” said Willis. “I thought they played a great game and played hard, obviously we are disappointed since we had the win right there in our hands but that is how this league goes, everybody can beat anybody, and we just came up short and it was unfortunate I didn't ponder on it too long.”
Hilmar (10-11, 1-3) will have an opportunity to rally as they host Riverbank (6-12) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“I think they are going to respond well, Friday night we will go right back at it, I think these guys can move on from it starting Friday, which we will be home and there will be energy there,” Willis added. “TVL is a grind and that's what we know and expect. It's those close games that can go either way and sometimes you get them and other times you don't.”