Turlock Christian High’s home game against Pitman High on Monday came down to the wire, putting cheering sections from both sides on edge as the game was decided in the final seconds of regulation and by a margin of only one point. The Eagles walked away from the fray with the 43-42 victory, but even though the game’s finale was close and theatrical, the bulk of the game was anything but.
TC controlled Pitman through three quarters in a sloppy matchup that saw the officials call a slew of fouls. The Pride battled back in the fourth quarter and looked to be on their way to a comeback win, but a TC trey in the final minute and a couple of missed game-winning shots in the final seconds by Pitman kept the Pride out of the winner’s column.
“We were expecting it to be a close game. We thought coming in we were the Cinderella, the underdog, and I told the girls there’s always the opportunity to excel against this type of team, so let’s make the most of the opportunity. And they did that from the very beginning,” TC head coach Edwin Santiago said. “They set their pace and their rhythm and they played their game.”
For Pitman, it was hard to overlook the frequent fouls called on its girls that regularly sent the Eagles to the free throw line and forced one of their top players, Whitney Barnes, to finish the game from the bench due to a foul-out.
“We didn’t play too well. Overall our game was sloppy. I think the officials let the game get sloppy; that was probably one of the worst officiating games I’ve ever seen,” Pitman head coach Dustin Curtiss said. “But that’s something we have to play through. We have to realize that sometimes you’re not going to get calls and you got to play though them.”
Pitman scored the first points of the game but struggled to operate its offense after that. TC held the Pride to only four points through the first quarter and led 14-4 by the beginning of the second quarter. The Eagles defense, specifically Cassie Balswick, routinely targeted telegraphed passes from Pitman and turned the turnovers into transition buckets while their defensive press made it hard for the Pride to advance the ball out of their backcourt.
“They weren’t used to our press, or I guess we’re pretty good defensively. So we kind of shut them down that way,” Santiago said.
TC’s cause was also aided by its free throw shooting as it’s girls made 13 trips to the line, most by McCalister Russell, in the first half alone. Pitman managed to cut TC’s lead midway through the second quarter, however, with a 10-5 run but by halftime the Eagles still led, 25-19.
By the end of the third quarter, the combination of Alize Tyler, Kaylin Randhawa and Katie Willett brought the Pride within one point of the Eagles. A Willett and-one to open the fourth quarter gave Pitman its first real lead of the night, a lead the Pride’s girls rallied around and extended by as much as six points with the clock winding down.
“We were fatigued in the fourth period. That led to some of the mental mistakes we made towards the end,” Santiago said. “We turned the ball over quite a bit in the fourth period.”
But Pitman was unable to hold on for the win as TC’s Hannah Sawyer hit what ended up being the game-winning trey with only 35 second left in the game — it was the Eagles’ only perimeter shot of the night.
Russell finished the night with a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds while Balswick recorded ten steals and nine assists. Willett scored 11 points to finish as Pitman’s top scorer with Whitney Perry right behind her with eight points.
“She hides in the weeds,” Santiago said of Balswick. “If you don’t know where she’s at, she’s going to be in the spot where you throw the ball, so she’s always there.”
Both TC and Pitman’s next step is tournament competition with the Eagles playing in the West Coast Jamboree and the Pride playing in their home tournament, the Pitman Holiday Classic, starting Friday.