A half-second after Jake Polack watched his three-pointer drop through the net, the senior guard exhaled with a force strong enough to exorcise 10 years of demons.
The shot came from about 3 feet beyond the arc with 1 minute, 40 seconds left in overtime and gave the Patriots a lead they never would give up in a 69-62 victory over Burbank in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs.
And why the sigh?
Well, through three quarters the Beyer floor general had struggled, scoring only three points. And a loss would not only provide another stone for those who are so quick to cast them in the direction of Modesto City Schools basketball programs, but would have extended the Patriots’ own playoff misery to 10 years and one day.
Wednesday was the 10th anniversary of Beyer’s last postseason victory, a 72-68 win over West of Tracy.
“This school really deserves the win,” said Polack, who finished with 18 points. “We’ve been in the gutter for so long, and this team is not done.”
Next for Beyer (24-4) is a quarterfinal game at Cosumnes Oaks of Elk Grove, which handled Bethel 85-51. Burbank finished 15-13.
“It’s special,” said Patriots coach Kyle McKim, who also got 11 points from sophomore Brian Perry and 10 from Tanner Gentry. “It really is – for us, for our league and especially for the kids. They work so hard, and this win is validation for that, and for us getting the five seed. It wasn’t enough to get the seed, but we had to earn it.”
Burbank didn’t attack the Patriots with a lot of depth, but showed a tough and potent trio of scorers. Junior guard Jason Ram had 22 points, junior wing James Gill had 21 and sophomore Keshawn Bruner had 15. All three helped Burbank rebound from a slow start to grab a 44-36 lead with 2:38 left in the third quarter.
Beyer pulled within 47-42 after three quarters, but failed to capitalize when Polack was brushed on a half-court, buzzer-beating heave and awarded three free-throws. He made only one, and through three quarters the Patriots were only 3 of 13 at the line.
Two aspects kept Beyer in the game. The Patriots thrived beyond the arc, hitting nine of their 10 total three-pointers in the opening three quarters. In addition, the Titans committed 18 turnovers.
Beyer still was going to need a big momentum swing to get back into the game, and it came in a double dose. With 5:07 left, Burbank post, top rebounder and inside defensive presence Vincent Austin fouled out. Then, with 3:10 left, Gill picked up his fourth foul attempting to grab an offensive rebound, and was sent to the bench a few seconds later with five fouls when he picked up a technical for arguing.
The Burbank offense was not the same without him on the floor, as the Titans managed only 12 points (six on two three-pointers by Ram) the rest of the way.
Polack’s three-pointer broke a 59-59 tie and sparked the Patriots’ game-clinching 8-0 run. Then followed the obligatory and spirited emptying of a section of Beyer students who never before had witnessed their school win a boys playoff game.
“It took me the whole first half to realize what was going on, and then I finally picked it up,” Polack said. “In the fourth quarter I just played the best that I could because I didn’t want this to end.”