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Pride survive late rally to advance in D1 hoops bracket
Pitman boys basketball
Pitman’s Avery Sanchez fights to maintain control of the ball during the game Tuesday evening against Pleasant Grove (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Pitman High sophomore guard Avery Sanchez made his presence known in more ways than one in the Pride’s play-in game against the Pleasant Grove High Eagles on Tuesday night. Aside from his 25 points filling up the stat sheet, he excelled in playing mental gymnastics with Eagles senior Collin Billy at the free throw line.

With just .9 seconds left on the game clock and a 53-51 lead, the Pride’s Justin Anderson made the crucial mistake of fouling Billy, sending him to the line with a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime. After Billy sank the first free throw, Sanchez and head coach Harvey Marable took care of the rest, with Marable freezing Billy with a timeout and Sanchez proceeding to get into his opponent’s head.

“During those last free throws, I was just talking to him and asking him if he’s ever been in that situation. You know, just playing with him and being annoying,” Sanchez said. “I guess it worked.”

Billy wound up missing the free throw, and the scramble for the rebound had drained the last .9 seconds off the clock, securing the 53-52 win and punching the Pride a ticket to play No. 1 seed Folsom High tonight.

For Sanchez, it was the third straight game that he led his team in scoring.

“I just do whatever I can to help my team,” the 6-footer said. “I’m not taking these games for granted. I’m making the most of my opportunity to play this game I love, especially considering I wasn’t sure if I was going to be allowed to play at the start of the season. I’m just so thankful and blessed to be here helping my team.”

Sanchez has referred to his preseason several times over the course of the season, although he doesn’t go into detail as to why he wouldn’t have been able to play. Regardless, it’s hard not to sense that he truly feels thankful to be on the court. It’s a sentiment that Marable also shares.

“That kid has worked so hard this season and it’s just a testament to that work,” he said. “He’s been leading us. He’s been carrying us and lifting his teammates up, and I’m just so proud of him. He’s a great player and a great kid.”

Sanchez’s offensive explosion didn’t come easy, though, especially early in the second half. At the break, Sanchez had 13 points, and the Eagles made sure to make the proper adjustments, limiting him to four shots in the third quarter, all missed.

“They came out of the gates with a good gameplan, but we also spoke about ‘fix, flush and forget about it,’ which is a saying I like for when we make mistakes. It’s when you make a mistake, flush it away and forget about. Unfortunately, we made a lot of mistakes on both ends, but we were able to fix them in time against a really good team that just keeps coming at you.”

The Eagles were led by sophomore guard Elijah Sykes, who led his team with 15 points.

Now that they have the win in their back pocket, things won’t get any easier, as Folsom is the No. 1 seed for good reason. The Bulldogs are a whopping 25-2 overall on the 2022-2023 season and grabbed first place in the Sierra Foothill League with a 10-0 record.

Tipoff between the Pride and Bulldogs is scheduled for 7 p.m.