The Hilmar boys’ basketball team is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after clinching second place in the Trans-Valley League with a 61-48 victory over league rivals, Escalon High, on Thursday night.
“We never talk playoffs during the season because we want to get to 15 wins and make playoffs,” said Hilmar head coach Paul Willis. “We wanted to make playoffs though and got the clinch but it was anticlimactic, it was a good win for us.”
The last time Hilmar made the playoffs was during the 2009-10 season when the ‘Jackets went 20-8 overall and 11-4 in TVL play. Since then, Hilmar has had losing seasons in league and have not won more than six league games in a season.
With Thursday’s win, Hilmar improves to 16-9 overall and 8-3 in the TVL.
“Early in the year when we talked I just wanted to be competitive but we prevailed and came together after having some tough road victories,” said Willis. “Then we racked up a couple road wins and started thinking it would be a year we could make playoffs. We just wanted to win the next game in front of us.”
Hilmar has also won four of its last five games.
“When we are looking at the season there have been highs and lows but that is how basketball is,” said Willis. “Tuesday we had a tough loss against Ripon Christian and it’s how you respond and it wasn’t a pretty game tonight because Escalon does a great job to take you out of your game. They play great defense.”
Despite a great defensive effort from Escalon, it was Hilmar who jumped out early to a 10-0 lead. Escalon battled back but Hilmar took the lead heading into the half at 31-27.
In the third quarter Escalon took the only lead of the game at 32-31 with 6:45 remaining in the quarter. Hilmar buckled down and ended the third with a 14-8 run to go up 45-40.
“They are always there. They are scrappy and they always play tough no matter what the score is. They even took the lead late surprisingly. I am proud of our guys,” said Willis.
Kole Gaglio scored a team-high 18 points while Carter Azevedo added 14 points. Jonas Tate finished with 12 points and Xavier Burke added nine.
Hilmar surged into the fourth and ended the game with a 16-8 run.
“I know they are relived to make the playoffs,” Willis added. “Sometimes you don’t play the same way, but we played a good fourth quarter and made some big buckets inside and the free throws as well.”
Hilmar’s final game of the season will be at home against first-place Ripon at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.