BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS: Dinuba boys regroup late to reach D-II semifinal

Top seed breaks late tie to fend off Garces and set up semifinal clash with Sunnyside, Immanuel boys’ season ends with overtime loss in Division IV

DInuba High players gather in celebration after the final buzzer sounds in a 53-47 victory over Garces High in a Central Section Division II quarterfinal game on Feb. 15. The top-seeded Emperors (27-3) advance to the semifinals, and will host No. 4 seed Sunnyside on Tuesday, Feb. 20. (Jon Earnest)
DInuba High players gather in celebration after the final buzzer sounds in a 53-47 victory over Garces High in a Central Section Division II quarterfinal game on Feb. 15. The top-seeded Emperors (27-3) advance to the semifinals, and will host No. 4 seed Sunnyside on Tuesday, Feb. 20. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published February 16, 2024  • 
11:00 am

DINUBA – It took championship level execution in the clutch, and Dinuba High delivered Thursday night in a tense Central Section Division II boys basketball quarterfinal.

Having lost all of an 11-point third quarter lead to No. 8 seed Garces Memorial and facing a tie game with under two minutes remaining, the top-seeded Emperors received two huge 3-point baskets from Josiah Ochoa and strong defensive stops to pull out a 53-47 victory at the packed Dinuba High gym. Dinuba (27-3) now hosts a 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20 semifinal matchup against No. 4 Sunnyside (24-5), a 63-56 quarterfinal winner over No. 5 Selma.

“We know we have a good group of kids and leaders on our team,” Emps coach Jeff Schofield said of his squad. “They handle a lot of stuff (on the floor) that we don’t have to get to as coaches.”

The leadership was exhibited after the visiting Rams (15-15) capped an 18-7 run from the mid-third quarter to tie the score on a 3-point basket by Asher Garde with 1:55 remaining. Brice Watley fed fellow senior Angel Sanchez a pass for a layup, and after a timeout and Garces turnover Watley calmly dished to junior sharpshooter Ochoa (game-high 17 points) for a 3-pointer from the left base and five-point lead.

Two free throws by Garde (15 points) with a minute remaining cut it back to three with just under a minute left, but the Emps calmly executed its halfcourt passing game after a timeout. The possession ended with an Ochoa 3-pointer from the top circle with 40 seconds left as the Dinuba fans erupted in support. Two free throws each by Ochoa and Joseph Lopez then sealed the win.

For the second straight playoff game, Dinuba’s high-powered offense was limited below its normal potent production. But solid defense and rebounding (Watley and Javier Torres finished with 13 and 12 rebounds) held the Rams in check for numerous stretches of the game.

Ochoa scored all five of his baskets from 3-point range, and Watley finished with 10 points and delivered three blocked shots and six assists. Torres was limited below his usual scoring average and finished with nine points, but dished off two assists and showed his veteran leadership running the floor.

Schofield praised the contributions of Sanchez who had six clutch points and eight rebounds. Bryce Hansen scored 13 points while Luke Taylor added 11 points for Garces.

Semifinal winners will advance to the section championship at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23 in Fresno’s Selland Arena.

South 75, Immanuel 74, OT

In a Division IV quarterfinal game Thursday at Immanuel South Gym, the No. 3 seed Eagles’ dream of a section title ended in heartbreaking fashion with a one-point overtime loss to the No. 6 seed Spartans (18-11). The visitors overcame a spectacular 37-point performance by Tad Tibbett to eliminate Immanuel, which finished the season 16-13 and captured a share of the Tri-County Conference Sequoia Division championship.

The 6-foot-3 senior forward, who holds the team’s single game scoring record with 42 points set last season against Selma, approached that figure with 20 second-half points and all six of the team’s points in overtime. But South had a 3-pointer from Gavin Christianson (19 points) along with a basket and pair of free throws to pull out the win.

Fellow senior Mikah Tolpezninkas scored 20 points, 10 in the first quarter, while Ty Tibbett, Caden Joseph and Owen Jackson all added four points. Veteran players Tolpezninkas and Tad Tibbett both eclipse 1,000 career points in their Immanuel varsity careers.

Eagles girls host Tulare Western tonight

Second-seeded Immanuel High’s girls basketball team hosts No. 7 Tulare Western at 6 p.m. today in a Division IV quarterfinal matchup. The Eagles (21-9) and Mustangs (15-12) meet for the first time this season, and an Immanuel win sets up a possible home semifinal against No. 6 Dinuba (16-12). The Emperors visit No. 3 Santa Maria (15-14) today at 6 p.m.

In Division III, No. 7 Reedley (19-10) visits No. 2 Morro Bay (21-6) today, while in Division V No. 5 Parlier (15-14) is at No. 4 Coalinga (24-4). In Division VI, No. 7 Orosi (13-16) travels to No. 2 Bishop Union (14-8).

Jon Earnest
Reporter