The smiles were wide on both benches before and after Thursday night’s boys varsity basketball matchup between Pitman High and Hilmar High. For the first time as a head coach, Hilmar’s Austin Keaton returned to his alma mater to lead his young Yellowjackets squad against the Pride and his former coach, Harvey Marable. But as it’s been for most of the preseason thus far, the Pride dominated in almost every facet of the game, rolling to a 50-25 win.
The dominance was especially evident in the first quarter, as Pitman jumped out to a 20-5 lead. The Pride were led by junior Justin Anderson, who began the game with two steals resulting in baskets on the other end of the floor. Marable credits Anderson and his energy for the fast start and the early, comfortable lead.
“Justin has all the tools to be a great one-on-one defender, and you can see it in games,” Marable said. “He just makes good decisions and makes things happen for us.”
And the defense continued to be the story of the game. By the time the clock showed zeroes, the Pride had racked up 13 steals, with Anderson being responsible for six of them. He also added a blocked shot to his stat line.
“I feel like I’ve always been stronger on the defensive side, but I’ve definitely always taken pride in getting stops, steals and just anything to help,” Anderson said. “I knew coming in that we were favored heavily, but I knew we had to set a certain tone before the game and set the standard. I made it an emphasis to come out with energy and get our guys going.”
On the other side of the ball, the Pride had two players score in the double-digits, with Anderson putting up 10 points and star sophomore Avery Sanchez leading the team with 13. As for Hilmar, senior Hudson Azevedo generated most of the offense, scoring 10 of the team’s 25 points.
“The turnovers really hurt us and that’s definitely something we need to clean up once we come back from the break and especially as we get into league,” Keaton said.
Despite the losing effort for Hilmar, Keaton and his coaching staff of Jason Pervaiz, Derek Louis and Dominic Romeo – who are also all Pitman alumni – embraced Marable and his assistant, Donovan Frank, after the game, sharing handshakes, hugs and plenty of laughs.
“It was honestly surreal,” said Keaton. “It was really surreal and overall, just really special for me and the rest of the coaches to go back to my former school and coach against Harvey and Donovan.”
Keaton explained that, since his graduation in 2008, he has maintained a strong relationship with the Pitman campus community.
“I have so much love for all those guys,” he said. “We’ve always kept in touch, texting each other and calling each other, and not just about basketball but about life in general.”
Marable shared similar sentiments, expressing how excited he was to see Keaton being involved in local basketball again.
“It’s nice to see a former player coming back and helping young kids in the community,” Marable said. “I’m incredibly proud to see Austin and the other coaches who played under me serve as coaches. It’s a really great thing to see.”