By the time high school basketball teams reach the postseason, they've been together for upward of three months.
But after Gregori High's 54-50 victory over Atwater in Friday's Sac-Joaquin Section Division 2 playoff opener, the Jaguars have taken that concept to the next level.
They're blood brothers.
Gregori lost starting guards Dom Wash and Jarrell Rogers to deep facial cuts in the game's opening 3 minutes, 40 seconds.
The absence of the two seniors stifled any semblance of offensive continuity the Jaguars could have hoped to establish against the Falcons, so Gregori turned its attention to the defensive end, where it held Atwater to 15 second-half points.
"We had to stay focused on the task at hand and couldn't let what happened distract us," said junior Todd Stewart, who picked-up the offensive load with 22 points. "We had to keep moving forward and keep playing. We played hard so Dom and Jerrell could play another game."
That next game will come Wednesday when the Jaguars (17-10) will visit Burbank of Sacramento (19-8,) a very quick and athletic team that won two games in December's Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic.
"Dom has a good chance of being OK for Burbank," said Gregori coach Mike Vander Molen. "Jarrell is a little more serious because it's on his forehead and pretty big. I think the kids handled it better than I did. I've never seen that much blood in two plays that close together."
Gregori had opened an 8-0 lead when Rogers stumbled and fell behind the baseline after crashing the defensive boards just 105 seconds into the game. The fall looked innocuous enough, but Rogers immediately grabbed his forehead and was led into the adjacent team room.
Less than two minutes later, Falcon junior guard Jordan Esparza picked off a pass and drove the other way for a basket. But as he made the layup, Gregori guards Wash and Darius Nuttall collided in mid-air, then Nuttall landed on Wash's head, driving his chin into the floor and opening up another deep cut.
Both players were taken away to receive stitches, and neither would return.
"We talk all the time about doing what we can to eliminate distractions, and distractions don't get any bigger than that," Vander Molen said.
Atwater did what it could to take control of the game at that point, which meant getting the ball inside to 6-feet, 5-inch center Ben Peterson. The junior led all scorers with 26 points, but appeared to be on course for a much larger output after a 14-point second quarter.
When he was fouled on an inside move and made two free throws with 3:26 seconds left in the first half, Atwater had a 31-22 lead and should have been in control against the team Gregori was able to put on the floor.
"We pressured them, trying to put more pressure on their other guards to make plays, but we came out after halftime very cold," said Atwater coach Tony Hillyer. "We couldn't get the ball to Ben."
Gregori's defense forced turnovers on the Falcons' first five possessions of the second half, which fueled a 14-3 Gregori run that allowed the Jaguars to turn a 35-30 halftime deficit into a 44-38 lead.
Peterson touched the ball only three times in the third quarter and missed his only shot.
"I don't know if they did a good job guarding him or even double-teaming him, but I do think that we panicked when they made that run to start the second half," Hillyer said. "We started throwing up 3s and went away from our game plan."
But Atwater wasn't finished. All it took for the Falcons to get back into the game was a renewed effort to feed Peterson in the post. The junior responded with eight fourth-quarter points, including a three-point play with 1:29 left that gave the Falcons a 50-49 lead.
They wouldn't score again, and in a second half that saw them tally but 15 points, Gregori was able to pull away with free throws.
The Jaguars scored all their fourth-quarter points at the foul line, and iced the game despite converting only three of their final 10 free throw attempts, finishing a 21-for-36 effort at the line.
"We had more to play for after those guys went out," said Nuttall, who played nearly the entire second half despite slightly spraining his wrist in the collision with Wash. "We played with more intensity after halftime."
Intensity, sure. But also with a lot of blood, sweat and tears as Gregori proved victorious in the school's first postseason basketball game.
Heavy on the blood.
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek.
HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS: PLAY-IN GAMES