Pitman High and Turlock High both struggled through the Central California Conference this season as they dealt with inconsistency and strained to form team identities to rally around. Injury, illness and inexperience were just some of the issues both teams had to endure, but none of that seemed to matter when the players hit the court for the final game of the season on Tuesday.
The Pride (9-15 overall) hit their home court with only one league win while the Bulldogs (9-18 overall) entered the game with two league wins, one of which came against Pitman. The two teams were on a level playing field, and for the first quarter they played like it. But unlike their first matchup, Pitman managed to take the game to Turlock and outshoot its players in the final three quarters en route to a 39-27 win.
“We shot the ball a lot better. The first time we were at 18 percent, this time we’re at 36 percent,” Pitman head coach Dustin Curtiss said. “We got a lot more open looks, we pushed the ball a little better and we played a little more confident. We shot like we were going to make it.”
After entering halftime up 21-15, Pitman elevated its defensive game and limited Turlock to only 12 second-half points — 11 in the third and one in the fourth.
“We didn’t do our jobs tonight. Everybody had a job to do, they didn’t get it done, and Pitman wanted it more than we did,” Turlock head coach Mark Musselman said.
The game was physical as has come to be expected from cross-town matchups, but it started with a kind gesture from one rival to another. The first points of the game were scored by Pitman senior Cady Riley, her first playing time of the season after being forced to sit out due to injury.
“She’s played three years of varsity basketball and this would have been her fourth, but she couldn’t play because she tore her labrum,” Curtiss said of Riley. “We got her in and luckily coach Musselman, the class act that he is, he kind of let her get a bucket because she can’t have contact.”
Those were the last free points of the game, however. Turlock and Pitman tested each other in the first quarter and entered the second with a score of 15-11 in the Pride’s favor. That’s when Pitman’s defense stepped up and kept Turlock’s best senior, Caitlyn Duval, off of the scoreboard for nearly 20 minutes.
“We’ve made a really concerted effort the last three weeks in practice to really work on our defensive intensity. And it showed the second time through league,” Curtiss said. “That’s what we’re going to live by next season. Just work on our defense and the scoring will come.”
“She got her shots up, she just didn’t make them,” Musselman said of Duval.
To make matters worse for Turlock, the Pride’s perimeter shooting proved to be accurate with multiple treys coming by way of senior Gurneet Sangha and freshman Kaylin Randhawa. Turlock hit a trey of its own with a Faith Pattee shot in the final 17 seconds to pull within four points of Pitman, but its one point in the fourth quarter via a Duval free throw ensured the two rivals would finish the season with identical 2-8 league records.
“Most importantly, I think it was good for our seniors,” Curtiss said of the win. “But we’re so young that any success that we have at the end of this year is really going to help us for next year.”
Randhawa and freshman Whitney Barnes led Pitman with a respective 10 and nine points. Duval and junior Meghan Hopkins led Turlock with six points each.
Both teams now look forward to next season with Turlock graduating three seniors and Pitman graduating only one.
“We’re improving; we’re getting better,” Musselman said. “We doubled our win total in league, we more than tripled our win total overall, and we’re moving in the right direction.”
“The thing that we’re happy about the most is that we’re going to have eleven to twelve players back,” Curtiss said. “If we can keep building the future’s going to be pretty bright.”