VISALIA – The Redwood High Rangers managed to short-circuit the engine of the Dinuba High Emperors’ offense, keeping them on course for a possible Polly Wilhelmsen Tournament basketball championship.
Bolstered by the inside defensive presence of 6-foot-9 junior center Cole Gilcrest, the Redwood guards were able to apply additional pressure to the outside and limit Dinuba to 2 of 20 shooting from 3-point range. The result was a 42-39 quarterfinals round victory at Redwood High gym on Dec. 28. The Rangers lost to eventual champion North in the Dec. 29 semifinals and settled for third place.
“We did a really good job at controlling the boards, we eliminated the second chances and the space (on the floor) where the other guys could go out and run to (the shooters),” said Redwood coach Jason Black, whose team lost 55-50 in a Dec. 12 game in Dinuba.
“We talked about scoring for four quarters; the last time (against Dinuba) we only had four points in the quarter. So we knew that we had to lock up, defend the three balls like crazy and we just had to get a couple of buckets.”
It succeeded with a flourish on this night. Redwood held an 8-7 advantage in the final eight minutes, getting a crucial 3-pointer from guard Isaac Esquivel and basket from Gilcrest, who finished with eight points and multiple rebounds while battling Emperors 6-foot-4 senior post player Brice Watley.
Signifying the frustration on offense for Dinuba was the final 90 seconds. Guards Josiah Ochoa and Michael Espirito both had good-but-contested looks from opposite wings on potential tying 3-pointers, and both shots curled out and bounced off. Esquivel then drained a contested three from the left wing with just over a minute left for a 38-34 advantage.
Compounding the Emperors’ difficulty at a rally was the fact they hadn’t committed any fouls in the quarter. So after an Angel Sanchez basket cut the deficit to three points with 53.9 seconds remaining, Dinuba had to foul three times to even get Redwood to the foul line. That took precious seconds off the clock, and Evan Galley hit three critical foul shots to offset a 3-pointer by Javier Torres in the final five seconds.
“Redwood had a real good game plan, I thought they guarded us really smart and took away some of our strengths,” Dinuba coach Jeff Schofield said. “Brice kept us in it most of that game with his scoring and passing.”
Watley finished with a game-high 16 points, 12 in the first half, and pulled down eight rebounds while battling inside for position with Gilcrest. Senior wing Torres finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists, but connected on just one of his three 3-point tries. Top threat Ochoa was limited to 1-for-8 from beyond the circle and finished with seven points.
Galley led Redwood in scoring with 11 points while Esquivel had 10 points including a pair of 3-pointers. Redwood held a 36-19 command on the boards.
Dinuba won its final two games to capture fifth place; edging El Diamante 60-58 on Dec. 29 at Mt. Whitney and then overpowering Porterville 70-58 the following afternoon. Torres scored 17 points against the Miners and then poured in 19 points (along with 11 rebounds and six assists) to receive all-tournament recognition. Ochoa lit up the nets against Porterville for 25, including seven 3-point baskets.