Joshua Hamilton let loose with another 3-pointer, a beautiful stroke with his heels edging toward the sideline.
As the ball splashed through the rim, the Central Catholic High star raised his arms, playing to the crowd.
Hamilton, an entertaining 6-foot-2 guard, finished the game in the same pose — arms held high, the mark of a champion.
The Central Catholic boys basketball team won its third consecutive section title on Saturday, going wire to wire in a 66-56 victory over intracity rival Beyer High in the Division III final.
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After edging West Campus in back-to-back D-IV championship games, Central Catholic (28-2) stepped up in weight class and knocked off a former Division II finalist.
Hamilton led the way with 27 points and six rebounds, including 16 in the second half. He made five of six free throws in the final minute to secure the blue banner.
Myles Clayton had nine points and eight rebounds off the bench, while Nic Sani and Justin Traina had eight points apiece for the Raiders, who now turn their attention to a run through the CIF State tournament.
“I don’t know if they quite get it," Wilson said in between pulls of chocolate milk. "Winning three in a row is such a big accomplishment, but they have more of a goal. That’s what got us through the year. They’ve set goals and reached about every single one they’ve set. Hopefully, we keep going."
Saturday’s feat marked a full-circle moment for Hamilton, a three-year varsity starter who was suspended for the 2017 postseason. Hamilton violated team rules and was forced to watch the Raiders' section run like everyone else — in street clothes from the sideline.
Hamilton says he's a different player this season. He now understands the fickle nature of sports; that the game can be taken away in an instant. He’s savored every moment on the floor, growing into a leader and champion with a young team with several new pieces.
It was only fitting that Saturday's game ended with the ball in his hands.
“I'm taking things more serious, knowing my actions affect not just myself but the people around me, too,” Hamilton said before the game. "Each and every game, it’s not about me. It’s about everyone else."
The win was Central Catholic’s first against Beyer in the MaxPreps era. The Patriots had won the last two meetings, both December contests.
Hayden Keller had 15 points and Ben Polack finished with 13 for Beyer, which managed just two field goals in the third quarter and went nearly six minutes between buckets in the second half. Keller ended the drought with a field goal early in the fourth.
By then, Central Catholic’s lead had ballooned to 52-36.
“There is a rivalry there,” Wilson said. “They all know each other. They’ve played against each other since they were kids in junior high and on and on. There is pressure with that."
The Patriots may be searching for their first section title, but coach Kyle McKim likes the direction his young program is trending. Beyer has won at least 20 games in each of his four seasons.
“It’s a great experience for the kids,” he said. “I told them at the end there, ‘There are so many teams that would kill to be in this situation.’ It’s not fun taking second place again, but at the same time, to appreciate the moment and appreciate getting to this stage, it doesn’t happen a lot. It doesn’t happen very often for teams in our area.
“We don’t take it for granted at all, the experience of getting here. It’s been a great emotional ride and we’re looking forward to NorCals."
Beyer (20-11) trailed by as many as 17 points in the second half, but cut the deficit to six, 59-53, with 1:41 left on an acrobatic layup by Polack. The Modesto Metro Conference MVP drove the lane, finishing off the glass and through contact. His free throw made it a two-possession game.
Central Catholic sealed the game from the free-throw line. The Raiders made seven free throws in the final 75 seconds to cue the celebration.
“I’m proud of them for making a run there at the end and cutting it to six, but they came out and hit shots,” McKim said of Central Catholic's early barrage. “All the credit in the world to Josh and (Traina) for hitting those shots. They made shots early and got us in a hole and then hung on the rest of the game."
Central Catholic looked comfortable under the lights at Spanos Center. Hamilton and Traina connected on four 3s, two each from opposite wings, as the Raiders raced out to a 20-6 advantage.
Hamilton was 3 of 5 from beyond the 3-point line in the first eight minutes, nearly outscoring Modesto’s top public-school program by himself (nine to 11).
The Raiders came out firing from beyond the arc, even though Wilson begged them not to get into a 3-point shootout.
“It was the top line on the board,” Wilson referring to his pregame chalk talk. “What am I going to say after making them?”
Added Traina: “I just kind of felt it. When the first one went in, the second one became a lot easier to shoot.”
No stranger to this stage, Beyer struggled mightily at the start. The Patriots missed six of their first seven shots, but never relented. Polack broke the cold spell with a pair of layups and 6-foot-7 center Kris Fore, one of three seniors in the starting lineup, pulled the Patriots within 24-20 with a hook shot.
Keller provided instant offense off the bench for the Patriots. Keller had eight points on 3-of-6 shooting in the second quarter, including two 3-pointers.
After starting 1 for 7, Beyer shot 54.5 percent (6 for 11) in the second quarter, cutting the Raiders’ once-double-digit lead to 33-26 at the half.
Brandon Gray and Kris Fore had 10 points apiece for Beyer, which, like Central Catholic, awaits its NorCal regional draw.