CHOWCHILLA — Aaron Deatherage stood just inside of halfcourt, bent over at the waist with his head hung in disappointment.
As a blur of orange and black celebrated around him, the Chowchilla senior was left to ponder what might have been after his last-second 3 wouldn't fall in a 54-52 Central Section Division 4 semifinal loss to Coalinga on Wednesday night.
It wasn't the shot the Redskins would have hoped for, but Deatherage did manage to get something off in the face of a swarming Coalinga defense.
Chowchilla inbounded the ball from the left sideline, just beyond halfcourt, with 4.5 seconds to play.
The Horned Toads had fouls to give, and came out aggressively on defense. Deatherage was stripped of the ball on his first shot attempt, but managed to recover. From just inside the halfcourt line, Deatherage took a step toward the basket and heaved the would-be game winner.
His shot clanged hard off of the backboard and fell harmlessly to the court as Coalinga celebrated a trip to the Valley Championship game.
"I didn't get much of a look," Deatherage said. "When they stripped the ball it went behind me and then I got bumped.
"I managed to get some momentum towards the basket, but I knew it was never going in. At that point I was just trying to draw the foul."
Chowchilla (17-8) looked poised to advance to the title game that eluded them the year before when Justin Hudspeth rose for a DeVaughn Gaines lob. The senior center laid in his only basket of the game to give the Redskins a 52-50 lead with 1:35 to play.
The win was within grasp with under a minute to play when Coalinga's Anthony Zataray drew a foul while attempting a 3-pointer. At the time, it was just the 14th foul called on the entire evening
With the home crowd registering a small seismic event on the Northern tip of Madera County, the junior guard coolly hit the first two free throws to tie the game.
Zataray missed the third free throw, but John Delano was there for the offensive putback to give the Horned Toads (24-8) a 54-52 lead with 23.5 seconds to play.
It was a fitting finish for Delano (game-high 17 points and 17 rebounds), who had been the most aggressive player on the court and abused Chowchilla on the offensive glass.
"It was frustrating because they hadn't called anything all night, and then to make that call," Deatherage said. "We of course foul their best free throw shooter, and then get burned on the offensive rebound.
"We're normally a good rebounding team, but they just outbanged us tonight."
Chowchilla got a decent look on its ensuing possession, but Lorenzo Cuevas' 3-point bid was a little long.
The Horned Frogs kept hope alive by missing the front end of a pair of one-and-ones that could have iced the game.
It gave Deatherage time for one last heave.
The two teams shook hands to a standing ovation from the capacity crowd, which appreciated the spirited effort.
It was a truly back-and-forth affair with neither team able to build more then a four-point lead all night.
"It was a battle," Redskins head coach Fred Gaines said. "Both teams had their chances, but no one could get on a real run.
"I thought it was a ticky-tack foul at the end of the game, but if they don't call it, their coach is probably upset. It's just one of those things.
"We struggled to shoot, which you never expect on your home court. And we got exposed on defense a number of times, by overhelping. We'd get out of position and they backdoored us a few times.
"Coalinga's a well-coached, well-disciplined team and you have to give them credit for getting it done."
DeVaughn Gaines had the hot hand early for the Redskins, scoring nine of his 11 points in the first quarter.
Delano answered back with six points in the second quarter to put Coalinga up 24-22 at halftime.
Cuevas started heating up in the third quarter, nailing two big 3s as the Redskins looked like they might go on the game's first run.
The Horned Toads canceled that out with a couple 3s of their own and the two teams exchanged the lead the rest of the way.
Sean Kinsley paced Chowchilla with a game-high 13 points.