Joe Hamilton picked the right time to come out of a shooting slump.
The Central Catholic senior drained three crucial 3-pointers late in the third quarter to give the Raiders the spark they needed. Hamiltons hot shooting sparked a 14-0 run and top-seeded Central Catholic held off No. 4 Branson of Ross late to defeat the Bulls 52-49 in the Northern California Division 5 Regional Semifinals at Central Catholic.
The Raiders (27-7) will face No. 2 St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda) in the NorCal championship on Saturday at noon at American Canyon High.
The Raiders had to dig deep to fight back from an 11-point deficit in the second half.
Rarely does Central Catholic coach Mike Wilson ask his guys to press full court, but he was running out of options and time against Bransons deliberate offensive attack.
We had to do something, Wilson said. It was in the back of our minds at halftime. Once the second half started and we were a little flat, we had to get it going. Weve used the press a couple times. Not to this extint. It was more experimental. This was out of necessity.
Central Catholic guards Jourdan Johnson and Donovin Townsend picked up the pressure and it quickly turned the game around.
A team like that, if you let them do what they want theyre going to kill you, Townsend said. Theyre methodical. They have very good shooters. Its hard to get them out of their comfort zone, but once we got them running a little you could just feel it. They werent comfortable.
Then Hamilton caught fire.
He drained a 3-pointer that cut the lead to 35-31 with 2:07 left and brought the Raider crowd to their feet.
Hamilton later made one of two free throws to cut the lead to three points. There was a scramble for the rebound on the second free throw. Bransons Taylor Walton (15 points) dove on the ball and tried to pass the ball out to avoid a tie-up, however, his pass went straight to Johnson at half court.
Johnson found a wide open Hamilton for a 3-pointer to tie the game at 35-all with 1:30 left.
He shot the ball well and we didnt respond, said Branson coach Bret Tovani. They pressed us and we started turning the ball over. Instead of taking the air out of the ball a little more we took quicker shots. We tried to be too quick.
Hamilton sank another trey the next time down the court to give the Raiders a 38-35 lead with 46 seconds left in the third quarter.
My teammates kept giving me the ball, said Hamilton, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the final 2:07 of the third quarter. They encouraged me to keep shooting. It only takes one shot to get going. I told myself I have to be the senior that steps us here.
The game went back and forth early in the fourth quarter until Central Catholics Ethan Eads scored his only four points of the game.
The 6-foot-8 senior hit a shot from the left elbow to give the Raiders a 49-48 lead with 2:44 left. He then scored with a left-handed shot in the paint to extend the lead to 51-48 with 1:58 remaining.
Two huge baskets by Eads, Wilson said. I pulled him earlier in the game because he missed an easy one. Its nice to see a guy respond after getting punished.
Bransons Colin Joyce tried to tie the game with a three at the buzzer, but Townsend forced him to double clutch the shot and it fell short.
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.