CERES — When you have a boys' basketball team as athletic and deep as Patterson High, sometimes the key to winning can be as simple as pushing the right buttons.
That's a gross oversimplification of the reason the Tigers were able to pull out a 68-63 victory Friday night at Ceres High because of the hours of preparation involved.
But when it came time for Patterson to have to make a run at the Bulldogs, coach Agustin Arreola put his team in a 1-3-1 half court trapping defense.
Done to open the second half, it was the right move at the right time. Not only did it spur a 22-6 start to the third quarter through turnovers, but the activity needed to make the trap work put the Tigers in a high-intensity mindset.
Now, if only there's a way for Patterson to bottle that intensity for the purpose of unleashing it in 32-minute intervals on the opposition
"We discuss that a lot, but we'd be pretty scary because we're a good team with good shooters," said senior shooting guard Keegan Sanchez. "If our defense could play like that the whole time we would be scary."
The Tigers are frightening enough right now. By winning in one of the area's toughest road gyms, they improved to 15-4 overall and will take a 4-0 Western Athletic Conference record into Wednesday's showdown at home against defending champion Central Catholic.
"We have to come out with that intensity on Wednesday because they're the champions until someone takes them down," Arreola said.
Ceres (8-10, 1-3) was in position to steal the win thanks to an impressive defensive showing following a shaky start.
Sanchez had 11 of his team-high 20 points in the game's first six minutes as Patterson sprinted out to a 16-5 lead. But that momentum was cut when Jordan Levu, the Tigers' extremely active post, went to the bench with his second foul.
Patterson's zone shut down a suddenly stagnant Patterson attack, and James Pernetti had 12 of his 20 points in the second quarter as the Bulldogs stunned the Tigers with a 28-6 landslide to take a 33-22 lead.
Patterson was able to whittle the deficit to 35-26 at halftime, then came out in that zone trap to start the third quarter. With Levu deflecting three passes, the Tigers used four straight turnovers to spark a 22-6 run that made the rest of the game close.
"It all starts with keeping Jordan out of foul trouble," Arreola said. "I don't think there are many players with his strength, athleticism and intensity in the county. He's the whole package, and it all started for us when we got him back on the court to start the second half because our half-court trap isn't the same without him out there."
The Tigers saved their final spurt for when it counted, as sophomore Kevin Phelps scored all six of his points during a 10-1 run that gave Patterson a 64-55 lead in the final two minutes.
"For Patterson, it's all about controlling the tempo, and you have to give them credit for coming into our place and getting a win," said Ceres coach Brian de la Porte, whose team hurt its own chances by committing 23 turnovers.
Junior point Cariaun Williams had seven of his 18 points in the fourth quarter for the Tigers, while Levu finished with 11 points. Caden Johnson added 10 for Ceres.