STOCKTON -- Down by 13 points to the champion of the toughest league in the Sac-Joaquin Section in its playoff quarterfinal, the Downey High boys basketball team needed a miracle.
One quarter later, the Knights nearly got it.
After stumbling and fumbling through the first half, victims of Folsom's swarming defense and their own nerves, the Knights caught fire and made a game of it. But they expended too much energy in coming back as the Bulldogs pulled away for a 68-56 victory over Downey in a Division I quarterfinal Tuesday night at University of the Pacific.
Folsom (22-7), which plays in the Delta River League, moves on to play Edison of Stockton in a semifinal Thursday at Arco Arena. For Downey (23-7), its season is over.
"This is a good group of kids, and they had a great season," Downey coach Doug Streeter said of his senior-dominated team. "Twenty-three wins and a league championship; they represented Downey very well."
And after trailing 28-15 at halftime, the Knights got it going.
The Knights figured out Folsom's defense, passing inside to senior center Joe Napoleon (16 points) for easy buckets. And when the Bulldogs collapsed on Napoleon, he found Booker Hinton, who also had 16 points, slashing to the basket.
"We took some time adapting to the larger court," Hinton said. "We're a second-half team anyway, but that was a lot to come back from."
Folsom led 37-20 with four minutes left in the third quarter, when the Knights mounted their comeback. Napoleon started it by scoring eight consecutive points. Hinton's three-point play with 36.2 seconds left in the quarter cut it to 39-31, and Chris Kline (nine points) hit a layup in the final seconds to pull within 39-33.
The Knights pulled within 41-37 early in the fourth quarter, when Kline and Napoleon hit consecutive baskets. But Folsom's Brandon Babineaux made three consecutive inside shots, and Downey never got any closer.
"We had a chance, got to within four," Streeter said. "But they answered with some big shots."
In the final minutes, each team emptied the benches while the raucous Downey student section cheered one more time for its players.
"We worked hard all year, with a league title and the playoffs in mind," Napoleon said. "I'll never forget this team, or this season. It was a great run."
Hinton, like Napoleon a senior, agreed.
"I love this team, and I love Coach Streeter," he said. "This was the perfect team. We all got along, all played together. It was a great year."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.