SACRAMENTO — After months as a team, weeks on a roll, days on a playoff run and almost two hours of travel to Arco Arena, the Pitman High basketball season came crashing down in mere minutes.
Fairfield High, with a size and quickness advantage at nearly every position, sprinted to a 17-point lead in the first quarter and sailed to a 74-55 victory over the Pride in Thursday's Sac-Joaquin Section Division II boys semifinals.
It was a crashing end to one of the best seasons in the five-year history of varsity sports at the Turlock school, and the immediate future for the Pride looks every bit as bright. Of the 18 players on the Pitman playoff roster, only one — Bradin Hagens — is a senior.
"The experience of playing here was great," said Hagens, who led the Pride with 14 points. "Playing on this floor was more than I anticipated.
Never miss a local story.
"But once you get on the floor, you do realize it's just another basketball game and you have to go out there and do what you need to win."
But the Falcons (24-6) kept Pitman from establishing any kind of flow.
Fairfield, long and quick, kept pressure on the ball and overplayed the passing lanes, forcing 23 Pitman turnovers.
"They were the same style of team that we played to get here, but every team along the way was that much better," Pride coach Harvey Marable said. "They were another step up from what we'd seen."
Pitman (20-9) struggled from the opening tap to run its offense but was within 13-7 with 2:59 remaining in the first quarter when Hagens got inside for a basket.
But the Falcons closed the quarter on an 11-0 run, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by James Lake, to take a 24-7 lead. When Lake, who led all scorers with 27 points, opened the second quarter with a layup, Fairfield was on its way to Saturday's 5 p.m. section final against Jesuit.
Pitman never got closer than 16 points the rest of the game. Andre Matteson scored 11 points for the Pride, and Austin Keaton had 10 but only got off seven shots.
"We didn't play well, but we have to give Fairfield a lot of credit for that," Keaton said. "They executed and shot the ball very well."
The Arco experience was new for Pitman, which didn't win a playoff game before this season.
As the team walked into the arena 45 minutes before the tipoff, most were toeing at the floor, or strolling out to midcourt to take a closer look at the Sacramento Kings logo most had seen only on television.
One Pride player, junior Juan Flores, said he couldn't believe he was on the same floor where his favorite player, Mike Bibby, holds court.
"Maybe I'll even get a chance to play," Flores said.
He did, scoring a basket with less than two minutes left.
"Playing here was the experience of a lifetime," Keaton said. "That was in my head the whole game, that every NBA player, from LeBron James, Allen Iverson to Carmelo Anthony, they all played on this floor."
And with so many players returning next season, the Pride could be in line for a return trip.
"We did have only one senior, but that senior did quite a bit to hold us together," Marable said. "We do have something left in the cupboard to work with next year, and I'm thankful for that."