TURLOCK — To have any shot at nabbing one of the Central California Conference’s three playoff berths, Atwater High’s boys basketball team had to have a victory against Turlock High.
The Falcons went to bed Wednesday night knowing their season still has meaning after a come-from-behind, 57-55 victory over the Bulldogs.
With the win, Atwater (16-10) improved to 4-5 in CCC, pulling to within a game of third-place Turlock (16-9), which fell to 5-4.
First-place Golden Valley (8-1) and second-place Merced (7-2) both won on Tuesday.
If the Falcons, who beat the Bulldogs 54-53 in Atwater on Jan. 24, are to claim the conference’s third playoff spot, they must beat crosstown rival Buhach Colony (1-8) on Friday, then have Pitman (2-7) defeat Turlock in their intracity rivalry on Tuesday.
“We were pretty loose coming into this game,” said 6-foot-6, 210-pound senior center Ben Peterson, one of Atwater’s co-captains. “Our attitude was ‘let’s just play basketball.’ We should’ve been doing that all year.”
The Falcons may have been loose, but they found themselves down by eight points entering the fourth quarter.
“We kept our composure in the fourth quarter and didn’t panic,” Atwater coach Tony Hillyer said.
The Falcons also got a little lucky.
With the game knotted at 52 after Peterson hit one of two freebies with less than a minute to play, the Bulldogs recaptured the lead when Jevan Hogan hit one of two free throws to make it 53-52 with 22 seconds left.
As Atwater worked the ball upcourt, Hillyer was yelling for a timeout. Neither his players nor the officials could hear him over the roar of the crowd, and senior guard Hector Rodriguez drove the lane and made the basket for a 54-53 lead with 11 seconds remaining.
“Nobody heard me calling for the timeout,” Hillyer said. “I guess that’s the luck of the draw.”
The final 11 seconds were filled six technical foul shots and the ejection of a Turlock High assistant coach.
“Tony’s guys played hard tonight,” said Turlock coach Doug Cornfoot. “We just didn’t finish.”
Kenny Fraser, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer this season at 18 points per game, fouled out with 3:15 to play after scoring just eight points.
The Falcons trailed 40-32 entering the fourth quarter and co-captain Josh Heller hit two free throws with 12 seconds elapsed in the stanza to cut the deficit to six.
Those free throws seemed innocent enough, but they were a sign of things to come. Atwater was 17 of 23 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter alone (20 of 30 for the contest). The Bulldogs were 4 of 6 in the stanza.
Turlock's Devan Bains led all scorers with 19, while teammates Demsen McFadden added 16. Peterson paced the Falcons with 16 points, and Brody Patterson chipped in with 10.