Riverbank senior Rolaun Dunham missed some crucial free throws down the stretch of last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section semifinal loss to Natomas.
There would be no such problem Wednesday night in the opening round of the CIF Division 3 Northern California boys basketball regional.
Nursing a three-point lead with six seconds to play, Dunham stepped to the line and calmly sank a pair of free throws and the No. 12 Bruins defeated fifth-seeded Santa Cruz 59-54 at Santa Cruz High School.
“I wasn’t even thinking about those free throws,” said Dunham, referring to last week’s misses. “My coaches noticed that I was rushing my shot and we’ve been working on that in practice.”
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Despite scoring 17 points, it wasn’t one of Dunham’s finest performances.
“Hey, we won, and I’m proud of this,” said Riverbank’s leading scorer. “This is the first time ever Riverbank has won a NorCal game.”
Still he delivered when the Bruins needed him most. In addition to the free throws, Dunham rebounded a missed free throw by SC’s Spencer Schwartz with 8.2 second left and, earlier in the third quarter, he hit a key 3-pointer that stretched Riverbank’s lead to 10.
“Rolaun didn’t have one of his better games,” said coach Jeff Jennings, whose team improves to 24-4 and will travel to Vallejo on Saturday to face St. Patrick/St. Vincent, a team that beat the Bruins 50-48 in the 2012 regional. “But he made big plays when they mattered.”
He wasn’t the only one.
Senior guard Reilly Nabors, who scored 10 points, delivered a lock-down defensive effort on Santa Cruz sophomore Kaijae Yee-Stephens, who scored 17 of his 24 points in the first half, but was held to just three in the fourth quarter and none in the final five minutes.
“It was just deny, deny, deny,” said Nabors. “He was feeling it early and making some ridiculous shots. I just had to stay down, keep a hand in his face.”
Tristin Rodgers also came through with a big effort for the Bruins. The senior guard was a menace in the passing lanes while on defense and he was aggressive to the hoop all night long. He finished with 13 points and probably set up his teammates for just as many points.
“We knew they were going to try and take away Rolaun,” said Rodgers. “I didn’t want this to be my last high school game. And if it was, I wanted to go out the best I could.”
Senior guard Curtis Porter III had six points for Riverbank and, like Rodgers, was active driving the lane and kicking the ball to open teammates.
“We tried to wear them down throughout the game” said Porter. “In the fourth quarter, we took advantage. We just tried to stay in front of Stephens and (Kiree) Hutchings and wear them down.
Hutchings was the other Cardinals player in double figures, with 11 points.
Riverbank’s set the tone early with its defensive pressure and led 21-15 after the first quarter and 35-27 at the intermission.
The Bruins led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, but Stephens hit a pair of 3-pointers to get the Cardinals back in it heading into the fourth quarter.
Stephens’ last points of the contest made it 54-49 with 5:05 to play and a 3-pointer from Hutchings made it 56-52. Schwartz then scored on a lay-in to make it a two-point game with 3:09 to play.
The Bruins were able to put it away with three free throws from Dunham.
If the Bruins are going to knock off No. 4 St. Patrick/St. Vincent (24-9), they’ll most likely need a big outing from Dunham. Then again, if his support cast plays the way it did on Wednesday
“We made the plays tonight when we needed to,” said Dunham. “It’s a long game. Anything can happen.”