SONORA — It doesn't matter how well teams play defense — whether zone, man-to-man or full-court press — there's one shot that is impossible to defend: the uncontested 15-footer more commonly known as the free throw.
Sonora High got to the line 21 times more often than did Ceres in Friday night's key Valley Oak League game, and it made all the difference as the Wildcats celebrated winter homecoming with a 49-44 overtime victory in front of a packed Castle Gym.
The Bulldogs (19-6 overall, 8-4 in the VOL) probably felt justified to question why they were whistled for 22 fouls to Sonora's nine, and why they took only six free throws (none after the 3:54 mark of the second quarter) to Sonora's 27.
But at least part of it was in the grand scheme of Sonora coach Rick Francis, whose Wildcats (18-7, 8-4) spent the entire game in an active 2-3 zone defense designed to cut down the Bulldogs' interior passing and driving opportunities.
Never miss a local story.
"We felt we couldn't play Ceres in a man-to-man because they're just too quick," Francis said. "Our game plan was to stay in the zone and make them shoot from the outside.
"At the other end, our game plan was to get the ball and keep going inside. Sooner or later, that puts you on the free throw line, and that paid off tonight."
Never more so than in the final two minutes of regulation. Ceres, behind the 20 points of Brett Sayad, led 42-37 and had possession with less than 90 seconds remaining.
But the Bulldogs were whistled for a rebounding foul with 1:26 left, and Jordan Sergent converted one free throw to cut the lead to four points. Then, after a Sonora turnover, Sergent, who finished with 11 points, drilled a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left to make it a one-point game.
Ceres, trying to play keep-away in the final moments, committed a turnover when Sonora's Shane Popke stole an interior pass.
The Wildcats got off two shots at the other end, then received the game's big call when Ceres guard Andrew Chipponeri and Sonora forward Sean Amend bumped into each other while chasing a loose ball.
Chipponeri was whistled for the foul, and Amend made the second of two free throws with six seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Ben Gorgas had all of Sonora's seven overtime points. He finished with 14 points.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at 578-2300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.