The Turlock High School gym saw a sold out crowd on Wednesday night for the regular season finale between the Bulldogs of Turlock and the Pitman Pride's boys basketball teams for one last cross-town showdown on the court.
Pitman seemed to be dealt an early blow when Cyle Williams was taken out of the game when he broke his knee cap early in the second quarter. But what looked like a nightmare quickly transcended to an upset win for the Pride over the 'Dogs, 57-56, after Branson Garcia made the game winning shot with less than five seconds remaining.
“I wasn't nervous at all actually,” Garcia said. “We had to give it all and not save anything for this game, no practice tomorrow, nothing, so just leave yourself dead. Everybody had that momentum going into the game and everybody was on the same page and ready to go from the start.”
Nobody was happier than Pitman head coach Harvey Marable.
“We have had a saying all year that is simple, 'Why not us?' and it became a point in time when we had said it during the year and it just didn't happen to us,” said Marable. “The wait was worth tonight. These are the hardest working group of kids.”
“They rallied behind each other and I am going to give credit to Pitman because they played a very good game,” Turlock head coach Doug Cornfoot said. “They kept their composure, they didn't rattle, they worked together as a team and they won by making shots when they needed it.”
Garcia's 22 points was a game-high as the senior took over the court, with the obvious help of his teammates to give the Pride a two-game winning streak, having won four of their final five games in their Central California Conference contests to give the Pride a 6-4 league record.
“We said in the second round if we can't go undefeated then nobody else was,” Marable said. “That was our mindset coming into the game and they were the only second half undefeated team and it was up to us to prevent that and it was our goal at the start of the game.”
Unfortunately for the Pride, Merced (6-4) held the tiebreaker for third place, having been the only team in the CCC to beat the Pride twice this year, so the postseason will have to wait for the Pride.
“There was not much to say before since it was the last game of the season and we just had to do our part and it needed to fall on somebody else's hands if we made the playoffs or not so we knew that,” Garcia said.
Turlock had won nine out of their last 10 contests heading into the game, including a five-game win streak that was snapped, but the 'Dogs still finished atop the CCC with an 8-2 posting and look to host a postseason game next Friday.
“The guys were disappointed because you know its Pitman, it’s a big game, the cross-town rivalry, but you have to tip your hat to them because they came in and outplayed us in our gym,” Cornfoot said. “The good thing is we get to learn from what we did wrong in this game.”
Pitman's remarkable start was triggered by the Prides ability to sink the long ball, especially after dropping their first three three-point shots to take a 9-4 lead.
Turlock then countered with a 14-0 run to end the first atop 18-9, then with 4:35 left in the second quarter, Williams went inside the lane uncontested, which is when his knee gave out.
The crowd waited in a stunned in silence as the paramedics came on to the court to carry the senior away in his final varsity game at Pitman.
All-together the delay was over half-hour.
But this is exactly what Pitman needed.
They buckled down and got to work, cutting the lead to six by the end of the first half and by the end of the third the score was tied at 45.
This set up not only the best second-half performance of the year, but one of the most exciting and thrilling fourth quarters of the year for the Pitman Pride.
The fourth became a backbreaking back and forth battle between the two sides as they exchanged leads and physical blows to one another in hopes of coming out on top.
“It was a very well played game,” Cornfoot said. “They hit some shots, and were patient. We tried to do too much 1-on-1 and were impatient and had costly turnovers, missed free throws and taking the ball inbound.”
Turlock was plagued by their tough night on the free-throw line after missing 11 of their 26 attempts on the line.
But for the Pride, they were playing for something else, or rather for somebody — Williams —as they used his absence as motivation to move forward deep into the tightest parts of the game.
“We just told each other if we were not going to bust out all before then now we have a reason because Cyle busted his knee for us and he had been working hard,” Garcia said. “We did it for him. After he went down we had that motivation and we used it as fuel.”
Pitman would surge into a 29-22 run in the second half with the eventual game-winner coming from Garcia as he laid up the shot over the hands of Turlock's Habib Velasquez.
“It was definitely a great game for us. It feels good since we worked so hard and its better when you work that hard for it and you get it. It’s an indescribable feeling,” Garcia added.
“We will take it and run with it and its good for the guys coming next year and it was a building moment for our program tonight,” Marable added.
Turlock will play in the Division I CIF Sac-Joaquin Section tournament next Friday with an opponent yet to be determined and a time yet to be announced.