ATWATER — Kaden Verdin was a one-man offensive disruption.
The Buhach Colony center dominated the glass and helped hold the Atwater inside tandem of Ben Peterson and Josh Heller to just three field goals through the first three quarters of Wednesday night’s crosstown clash.
But when the senior fouled out with 4:17 to play, everything changed for the Falcons. Peterson (game-high 20 points) and Heller (nine points, 13 rebounds) began carving up the Thunder interior, combining for 16 fourth quarter points as Atwater closed the 53-40 victory on a 16-6 run.
The victory was the Falcons’ second straight and helped keep them in the Central California Conference playoff conversation with a big showdown against Merced looming on Friday.
“Kaden was huge tonight,” Atwater coach Tony Hillyer said. “He was playing all out and you could see how much he wanted the win. Once he got his third foul we knew we needed to keep attacking him and try to get those last two.
“Once he was out of the paint, things obviously went very differently for us.”
It was a tough loss for Buhach Colony (3-19, 0-5 CCC) which fought through a terrible 12 for 68 shooting night to remain in the game until the final minute and a half.
John Bliss’ squad took the court with an energy he said it hadn’t displayed all season, but the Thunder’s lack of execution in the opening half is where Wednesday night got away. BC dictated the game’s tempo and were winning all of the hustle plays, with the bulk of its offensive efforts coming within three feet of the basket.
The Thunder Dome rims proved unkind, however. Bliss’ squad shot 6 of 37 in the opening half and went into intermission down 23-20.
“My assistant told me we missed 31 layups in the first half,” Bliss said. “That’s your game right there.
“The kids came out and played as hard as they have all season. I hope we can repeat that effort, but we just couldn’t finish anything tonight.”
Atwater (14-8, 2-3 CCC) only shot slightly better, going 13 of 60 in the game.
The Falcons did the bulk of their damage from the free throw line, knocking down 25 of 38 attempts.
With neither team able make shots consistently, Atwater clung to just a 32-31 lead going into the fourth quarter.
A couple Corbett McDaniel free throws and a Hans Van Warmerdam put back helped Atwater open-up a six-point lead.
BC wouldn’t go away.
John Zaragoza (12 points) took over the offensive load after Verdin (15 points and 17 rebounds) exited with his fifth foul. His runner with 1:40 to play brought the Thunder within 43-40 with 1:40 to play.
It was as close as they would get. Peterson answered with a layup and Atwater closed the game by scoring the last 10 points.
McDaniel added seven points off of the bench for Atwater.
“Our coaches got into us at halftime for playing their style in the first half,” Peterson said. “It shouldn’t have come to that, but I think the coaches woke us up.
“We got back to playing Atwater basketball in the second half. Once Kaden was out of the game, Josh and I were really able to finish it.”
Staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.