TURLOCK — Pitman High School had to survive runs through two gauntlets Friday night.
The first was the one that Sacramento's Grant High threw at the Pride for 32 minutes, a pressing, poking, slashing style of play that kept the game on edge.
The second was pure fun. It was set up by the Pitman student body to greet the team as it exited the locker room following its wild 69-66 victory over the Pacers in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II boys playoffs.
On Thursday, the gauntlet will be replaced by a caravan, as the Pride (20-11) will make the trip to ARCO Arena for the first time in its five years of playing varsity basketball. Pitman will face Fairfield in the section semifinals at a time to be announced.
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"It means a lot for the school," said junior guard Austin Keaton, who led Pitman with 21 points. "Our first-ever playoff win was just the other night, and now we're taking it to the next level."
The Pride used an 18-0 run in the first quarter to take early command and appeared ready to post a blowout by building a 38-18 lead late in the first half.
"If my kids make layups — we missed 16 in the first half — we win the game going away and it wouldn't have been close," Grant coach Dennis Weaver said. "But that's on us."
Both sides knew the game wasn't over. Grant outscored Granite Bay by 18 points in its opening-round win and staged a rally of identical size against the Pride.
Senior guard Tari Ransom scored 12 points in the third quarter to help the Pacers pull within 51-45 entering the final eight minutes, and when Kevin Daniel Jr. went coast-to-coast following a long rebound with 2:07 remaining, Grant had pulled even at 64-64.
"We couldn't do anything right for a while there, and they just kept coming back at us," said Pitman senior guard Bradin Hagens, who had 13 points. "We finally just had to settle down at the end there."
Hagens scored after a long outlet pass with 1:24 remaining to give Pitman the lead for good. Keaton then added cushion by backing down the smaller Ransom for a short bank shot with 46 seconds left.
And when Grant missed two 3-point attempts in the final 12 seconds, including one at the buzzer by forward Ferrell Carter that caught the rim, the Pitman student body marked the occasion by storming the court.
"It shows that there's never a point where you can relax in a game and think it's over," Pitman coach Harvey Marable said. "I knew that Grant is a team that expects to make a run in every quarter, and we would have to handle or stop that run.
"We've exceeded all our goals this season. And now we're going to ARCO. That's beautiful."
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