HILMAR -- The most dangerous team in the Western Athletic Conference will have a say into which school eventually emerges as champion.
But on Tuesday, as is its pattern this season, Patterson High will have to settle for keeping things interesting on the court.
Dominated by Hilmar for three quarters, the Tigers sliced 15 points from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit before the Yellowjackets pulled out a 66-58 victory behind the 14 points and 20 rebounds of senior forward Quinton McCown.
"I tried to tell my guys to keep pushing, that no lead is ever too big, but we withstood that adversity and stuck with it," said Hilmar coach Danny Freitas.
The Yellowjackets take a 16-5 record and an 8-2 WAC mark into the last five-game round of the league schedule, which opens Friday night when they visit Livingston with a share of second place at stake.
Patterson, which has lost by two points to both Hilmar and league-leader Central Catholic this season, fell to 7-15 overall and 4-6 in league play.
"We're very conditioned and we've gotten some teams to tire, and that's how we get teams," said Patterson coach Tony Lomeli. "The Central Catholic game was like that, and we even got Livingston tired at the end after they handily kicked us around for three quarters."
Kent Foster kept the Tigers within striking range, then scored 10 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter during Patterson's 21-6 run that pulled it within 61-56 with more than two minutes remaining.
The run was stopped when McCown got inside for a basket, then the Tigers would score only two more points as Foster's teammates failed to get him the ball on any of their last five possessions.
The game's opening possession was an accurate indication of what was to come. Hilmar won the opening tap, drove to the basket and grabbed four offensive rebounds before Trent Goiburn converted a tip to start his 14-point effort.
The Yellowjackets dominated inside the entire game, then pulled away to leads as large as 21 points when their guards connected on six of 13 shots from 3-point range.
Only when the Tigers appeared dead, trailing 55-35 entering the final eight minutes, did they show any concentrated spark.
"Maybe we had that moment when we relaxed a moment, and you can't do that against a quality team like Patterson," Freitas said. "They've been battling all season long and they're capable of upsetting a team like us, like Central Catholic, like Livingston."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.