Local sports fans with loyalties to both Turlock and Pitman high schools had their dreams come true Wednesday when the varsity boys basketball regular season finale resulted in the two Turlock teams sharing the Central California Conference title — a first in the schools' rivalry history.
Pitman finished its regular season with a 48-46 victory over Turlock at home, resulting in both teams ending with an 8-2 league record.
“It is a great feeling,” said Pitman senior Jando Diaz. “My sophomore year I came in here and my goal was to help this team get better, and for this team to help get me better and finally having this success my senior year, it's like finding treasure at the end of the tunnel. This is amazing to be part of history.”
Pitman finished the season with a 15-8 overall record.
“To me it was all about the teams who played before us and the foundation that they made for an opportunity for these kids to play at this level,” said Pitman head coach Harvey Marable. “So I want to thank all the players before them and the coaches who helped out, especially thank you to these guys for what they did this year.”
Diaz finished Wednesday's game with a team-high 15 points and added three rebounds and an assist.
Turlock ends the season having lost two of their final three games in league and close out the season with a 9-18 overall posting, including back-to-back CCC titles.
“We were talking about the early frustrations and struggles we had and we have to give our kids credit because they kept fighting and stayed focused and listened to us going in league,” said Turlock head coach Doug Cornfoot. “We are league champs and we are going to the playoffs, so we met our goal.”
Since losing to Atwater in an upset back on Jan. 29, Pitman had settled into a consistent groove, having won three straight in league to end the year as champions once and for all.
“I can't put my finger on it, but I will say this is one of the few teams I saw develop, especially on the defensive end,” said Marable. “It's a big opportunity; it's a first CCC ever for our basketball program, so they have every right to enjoy this.”
To get to that point it wasn't an easy task for Pitman, which has a historical losing record against Turlock — but finally things went right for the Pride on Wednesday night.
In the opening quarter Pitman looked lackadaisical and it took some time to get things rolling. Turlock, on the other hand, started strong going up 21-9 after the first ended. This would be the biggest lead of the game for any side.
Pitman held Turlock to just two points in the entire second quarter and both sides went into the break tied at 23-23 after an intense first half.
The second half was much of the same intensity and as each side exchanged baskets, Pitman finally built a one-point lead after the third backed by Diaz's eight-point quarter.
“I think tonight was sort of a microcosm of our year,” said Marable. “First quarter we did what we have all year, started off bad, then in the second we played how we do and third and fourth it was just the will of our team to play under a pressure situation and play how we need to.”
There were five lead changes in the fourth quarter within a five minute span, but Pitman went up 42-39 after Leon Ohms dropped two free throws followed by a fast break bucket from Gurman Takhar.
With under two minutes remaining, Pitman was able to hold on for the lead while Turlock missed three of its final four free throw opportunities to end their final game of the season with a loss.
“Defense definitely won us this game, because last game they scored anything and this game we had to limit them and we did,” said Diaz.
Pitman's Dom Von Waaden finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists and a block. Takhar had 6 points and 5 rebounds.
Turlock's Ricky Heidelbach finished with a game-high 19 points and added two rebounds. Habib Velasquez tallied 12 points, five rebounds and a steal. Will Hilgen had four points and two rebounds.
“We had opportunities to win the game tonight, give credit to Pitman, they played great. It was an exciting game both ways,” Cornfoot added. “Great game and great atmosphere all the way around, that is what makes coaching fun.”
Turlock and Pitman will both compete in the Division-I Sac-Joaquin section tournament against opponents yet to be named and a time and place yet to be determined.