With his team trailing and the clock running out, Pitman High point guard Austin Keaton took the ball and headed to the hoop.
As defenders collapsed on him, the 6-foot-1-inch senior fired a no-look pass to the right corner, where a teammate had a clear view for a 3-pointer to keep Pitman close.
Keaton duplicated the play moments later, but on the ensuing trip downcourt, the defense was already sagging in the key -- so he pulled up and hit a 21-footer.
His heroics weren't enough to keep Pitman from losing to crosstown rival Turlock on Wednesday, but they certainly thrilled a capacity crowd.
Of course, Central California Conference fans are becoming accustomed to watching talented guards take control of games.
"It's a very strong position this year," said Turlock coach Doug Cornfoot, who has one of the region's top duos in Travis Souza and Efrem Harris. "We get some great matchups in this league."
The CCC boasts seven guards worthy of consideration for The Bee's All-Stanislaus District team. Not a night goes by when one of them isn't deciding the outcome of a game.
The prolific tandem of Jarrett Sparks and Allen Huddleston, averaging a combined 46 points, has Merced (14-7, 6-0) atop the CCC, and Pitman (14-6, 5-2) and Turlock (16-6, 5-2) are tied for second.
The other teams in contention also feature talented guards: Los Banos (15-8, 4-3) and Phil Etcheverry, and Golden Valley (10-12, 3-4) and Liautaud Prophete.
Merced's guards create problems for foes because they're athletes as well as scorers. Both played on the CCC-champion football team with Sparks committed to Cal as a receiver.
"They are extremely aggressive offensive players," Merced coach Marcus Knott said. "They fill different roles, more because of differences in their personalities (and) development. Jarrett is more experienced ... which is why he runs the point."
Huddleston, a junior, leads the district with 25.9 points per game, and Sparks is scoring 20.3 and shooting 50 percent from the floor.
"People don't realize how good of a passer Jarrett is because he is such an aggressive scorer, but his court vision is exceptional," Knott said. "As a tandem, they put an enormous amount of pressure on the other coach when deciding how they are going to defend our team."
Across town, Golden Valley's Prophete is running the offense and putting up points.
"He is an excellent shooter when he is open and has the ability to take it strong to the basket," coach Keith Hunter said, noting Prophete averages 18.8 points and is the Cougars' No. 2 rebounder with six per game. "He is a tough, durable player. One of his best characteristics is the enthusiasm and positive energy he brings to the gym every day."
Harris, a 6-2 senior, is one of the district's top defensive players. That allows his sophomore running mate, Souza, to focus on coordinating the offense and scoring.
"They complement each other because they can both handle the ball anywhere on the court," Cornfoot said. "They take pressure off one another because we do not have to continue to put the workload on either of them. Plus, Efrem allows us to have a good defender on the court that can be a threat offensively."
Souza is continuing to expand his skills, according to Cornfoot.
"I saw Travis as an eighth-grader playing for a travel team. I was impressed with his presence," he said. "He didn't let the fact that he was playing against high school kids affect him.
The 6-3 Souza started as a freshman and, "now that he is a sophomore, he is still growing into his role and could be a dominant scorer," Cornfoot said. "He brings ability and control to our team from the point guard position. He is really good at controlling tempo for us, which allows us to get into our offensive sets."
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.