In the huddle and on the floor, Central Catholic High's Joshua Hamilton was determined to have the last word.
Hamilton scored 17 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter, willing the fourth-seeded Raiders to a 59-55 victory over No. 8 Valley Christian of San Jose in the semifinal round of the CIF State Northern California Division III tournament.
"He hit a couple of 3s that really got him and the team going," Central Catholic coach Mike Wilson said. "Then all of a sudden we were getting to the basket."
The game turned on upset-minded Valley Christian in the fourth quarter. The Warriors made just one substitution on Tuesday, pushing their chips to the center of the table against the Raiders' nine-man rotation, and the gamble proved costly.
Central Catholic outscored Valley Christian 24-11 over the final eight minutes, improving to 10-0 at the Mark Gallo Health and Fitness Center this season. The Raiders turned up the heat with a full-court man press, anchored by junior Justin Traina (four steals and four deflections), and stopped settling for quick jump shots.
"It was the penetration," Wilson said. "We started to attack them for once. It just took us three-and-a-half quarters to do it."
Hamilton was 7 of 8 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, and for the third straight game, sophomore point guard Dayton Magana sealed the win with free throws. Magana, a perfect bundle of ball-handling ability and moxie, had just three points, but they all came in the final 27 seconds.
"We shot horribly, period. We had no flow. We were taking early shots and we weren't running the court," Wilson said. "We made it easy on them with quick shots and we weren't attacking the rim.
"I think our full-court press wore them out and got us going, and we finished the game with that."
Central Catholic (31-2) will play No. 2 Pleasant Valley (30-2) in Saturday evening's final. For the first time in this regional tournament, the Raiders will have to go on the road. The game will be played in Chico, the hometown of the Vikings, at 6 o'clock.
A lengthy winning streak will fall Saturday. The Raiders have won 22 straight games, while Pleasant Valley boasts a 17-game streak that includes Tuesday's 74-56 win over No. 3 University.
Only the region's boys and girls' Open Division and Division I finals will be played at Santa Clara University on Saturday.
The NorCal final is the second in school history for Central Catholic, which was beaten by Alameda's St. Joseph Notre Dame 54-42 in the 2014 Division V championship game.
Four years later, Wilson believes his program is better equipped to win on the big stage. The Raiders have raised three consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section banners, and they've proven they can win in a variety of ways.
On Tuesday, Central Catholic dug itself out of a 12-point hole with about six minutes left in regulation. Cameron Fini staked the Warriors to a double-digit lead with five 3-pointers through three-and-a-half quarters.
"You look at the last three games and just how tough they were, especially emotionally. That's character growth right there," Wilson said of narrow home victories over Monterey, Half Moon Bay and now Valley Christian.
"It builds confidence that you can fight through that. ... The thing is: Don't ever quit. That's been my biggest goal for this program over the last 14 years. Don't be afraid to compete.
"You can't drive to Chico with a happy-to-be-here attitude," he added. "In years past, that was the kind of attitude we had. We can't do that anymore. We have to have the right attitude."
Hamilton is locked in.
The Valley Oak League MVP knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to close the Raiders within 51-50, but his takeover performance began in the huddle before the start of the fourth quarter.
With his team trailing 44-35, Hamilton commandeered Wilson's moment, trumping the coach's pump-up speech with one of his own.
"Going into that fourth quarter, once I was done speaking, he finished it by trying to motivate the kids," Wilson said. "He told them, 'Don't give up. Don't give up.'"