BOYS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS: Final quarter rally not enough for Sanger West

Hornets rally from 22-point halftime deficit to close within 6 before falling to Santa Maria in Division IV first round matchup; Dinuba, Immanuel advance

Sanger West High’s Farhan Khan dribbles toward the basket during the first half of the Hornets’ 73-64 loss to Santa Maria High in a Central Section Division V first round playoff on Feb. 13. Sanger West cut a 22-point halftime deficit down to six points before coming up short in the program’s first-ever postseason game. (Jon Earnest)
Sanger West High’s Farhan Khan dribbles toward the basket during the first half of the Hornets’ 73-64 loss to Santa Maria High in a Central Section Division V first round playoff on Feb. 13. Sanger West cut a 22-point halftime deficit down to six points before coming up short in the program’s first-ever postseason game. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published February 14, 2024  • 
11:00 am

SANGER – Sanger West High’s first-ever boys basketball playoff game was a disaster for nearly three quarters Tuesday night, but a stirring rally the final eight minutes provided some late drama and built hope for the future of the still-young program.

The eighth-seeded Hornets were blitzed by a barrage of 3-point baskets from the visiting No. 9 Santa Maria Saints as they fell into a 22-point halftime hole. But after creeping within 18 points after three quarters, the hosts amped up full-court pressure and managed to cut the deficit to six points in the closing minute-plus before eventually falling by a 73-64 final score at SW gym in a Division V first round contest.

Hornets head coach Scott Spielman was encouraged by the strong comeback from his squad, which finished the season with a 10-19 record.

“We told the guys down 22 at halftime that they’re going to keep shooting. They can shoot themselves into a big lead, they can shoot themselves out of it,” he said. “So we just tried to wear them down. We’ve got an eight or nine man rotation and kept fresh bodies out there. I just wish the game was five quarters instead of four.”

Senior Agnan Doad came up big in the late rally of his final varsity game. The 6-foot-5 center-power forward poured in 14 of his game-high 29 points in the period, adding a block and three offensive rebounds. Forcing quick shots and turnovers, the Hornets went on a 9-2 run to cut a 13-point deficit down to 67-61 with inside of two minutes remaining.

After a couple of missed opportunities for SW to further cut into the deficit, Santa Maria (18-12) hit a pair of baskets to build the lead back to double-digits in the final minute. Doad finished the night with eight rebounds (five on the offensive end) while junior Anthony Pineida added 10 points while freshman Kharon Parks finished with nine points, rebounds and a steal.

The Saints were torrid from outside, finishing with 14 3-pointers led by junior guard Johnathan Lupercio who had 28 points including seven baskets from beyond the 3-point circle. Darre Cortez finished with 12 points while Tony Morales and Julius Medina added 11 points apiece.

Spielman called the Hornets’ first postseason appearance a good learning experience.

“We’re returning most of our guys next year, and it’s good to just get to taste the playoffs in this atmosphere,” he said. “We have a lot of positives to build on. We’ve just to give ourselves a couple of weeks (off), get right and get back at it for spring ball.”.

In other first round matchups on Tuesday:

Dinuba 49, Stockdale 35

In a Division II opener at Dinuba High gym, the top-seeded Emperors (26-3) advanced in a defensive contest over the No. 16 seed Mustangs (13-16). Brice Watley dominated inside with 22 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, as the Emps advanced to a 6 p.m. home quarterfinal game Thursday, Feb. 15 against No. 8 Garces Memorial (a 58-48 winner over San Luis Obispo on Feb. 13).

Javier Torres and Josiah Ochoa (three 3-pointers) scored 12 points apiece for Dinuba, with Torres adding five rebounds and five assists. The Emps led by just five points at halftime before gradually pulling away the final 16 minutes.

Centennial 53, Sanger 44

In a Division I matchup at Bakersfield, the host Golden Hawks (24-6) got 15 points from senior Rippen Gill and scoring from eight different players to end the 11th-seeded Apaches’ season at 16-12. No. 6 seed Centennial now travels to Santa Maria to face No. 3 seed St. Joseph, which routed Liberty-Bakersfield 74-53.

Sanger’s loss marked the final varsity games for 10 seniors including veteran starters Nolan Willison, Kevin Chambers and Marquis Cropper. Chambers finished the campaign as the program’s new single season assists record holder.

Immanuel 73, Madera 59

In a Division III game at Immanuel South Gym, the Eagles (18-12) put away the visiting Coyotes behind a torrid 36-point performance from Tad Tibbett. The senior forward scorched the nets for 36 points, 24 in the second half, while senior guard Mikah Tolpezninkas added 18 points.

Third-seeded Immanuel next hosts No. 6 South High (17-11) at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15. The Rebels defeated Tulare Union 80-64 in Bakersfield.

Delano 56, Reedley 53

In a Division V matchup at Delano, the Tigers (20-10) ended the Pirates’ season with a close win as Ibriham Shuwait scored 22 points and Jotham Amodo added 20 points.

The Pirates finished 12-18 under first-year head coach Zeke Lyons, and returned a good nucleus of players on a relatively young varsity team.

Orosi, Orange Cove lose on road in Division VI

Both Orosi and Orange Cove High had their seasons come to an end with losses in Division VI first round playoffs. The No. 2 seed Cardinals (15-12) lost by a 53-43 score at Strathmore while the No. 11 Titans (13-15) fell by a 44-41 score at Mammoth (14-9) in Mammoth Lakes.

Jon Earnest
Reporter