It was a typical game with a typically unfortunate ending for Kent Foster.
Patterson's high-scoring guard played his usual outstanding game Tuesday night at Hilmar, scoring 28 points and contributing 10 of those as Patterson cut all but five points from the Yellowjackets' 20-point lead after three quarters.
With only a few forced exceptions, all of his points came within the flow of the game as the 6-foot, 1-inch, senior guard did everything he could to add his young Tiger teammates to the flow of the action.
But at the end of the night, it was yet another loss for Patterson -- an all-too common outcome for the young Tigers despite having one of the area's top floor leaders on their side.
"The losing gets you down," Foster said. "I hate losing, and it's hard for me, but we're getting better and that's the most important thing. I'm just trying to finish out my senior season the best I can."
Patterson has only seven wins this season, which means that no matter what happens in the final weeks of the regular season, Foster will be the district's best player not to qualify for a run in the postseason.
Foster is averaging 23.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, three assists and three steals per game for the Tigers. As those statistics indicate, he's asked to do a lot of different things for Patterson, and he's responding to that pressure.
"It's hard," Foster said. "The team needs me to do a lot of scoring and a lot of rebounding, and still play defense. It's a lot of expectation put on me by the coaches. I try to do as much as I can and play as best I can."
Still having fun
As difficult as this season has been for Foster, he's having more fun than he did last year, when he was one of several talented players on a team that underachieved its way to a 19-9 record and a first-round playoff loss to Sonora.
Foster averaged 15.4 points per game on that team, which as times appeared to have too many leaders on the floor and thus had no real leadership.
"It was chemistry," Foster said. "That was our first time playing together as a team and we had some rough times. We should have done a lot better. Way better. We had a lot of egos on the team. We needed to come together but, unfortunately, we couldn't when we needed to."
Coach Tony Lomeli, recognizing the problems that held down last year's team, took a tougher approach into this year's preseason. When several returning seniors didn't buy into the program, they were excused from the squad, leaving Foster as the lone player with varsity experience.
"We had a lot of seniors last year with a lot of individual goals and not team goals, and that's why we struggled through last season," Lomeli said.
"That attitude was evident again this year in the dismissal of five seniors -- guys who broke rules and expected there wouldn't be any consequences. It put Kent in the situation where instead of being a part of a veteran team he's playing with four sophomores and two juniors with no varsity experience."
The lack of team experience shows up in many ways. For instance, the Tigers have four conference losses in games in which they trailed by four or fewer points in the fourth quarter.
"In every one of those close losses, Kent did just about everything he could for us," Lomeli said. "And we've become so dependent on him. I think the kids on this team have learned a lot from him, and I think my job next year will be easier because Kent was on this team."
But in Tuesday's game, the overall lack of experience showed up in a different way. After Patterson opened the fourth quarter on a 21-6 run to pull within five points with more than two minutes remaining, Foster's teammates took quick shots instead of looking to their best player.
Foster did not touch the ball on offense at any time in the final two minutes of the game.
"Kent's in the middle of this and he has to be the spark whenever he's on the floor," Lomeli said. "We don't have a true point guard, so Kent has to work for every shot he gets, and that wears on him. Experience always comes into play in those late-game situations."
Looking to the future
Foster's basketball career at Patterson has five games remaining -- one final trip through the Western Athletic Conference, ending with home games against Livingston and Hilmar that will be important games for both visiting teams.
But for Foster, those games will serve as his two final chances to get all his teammates on the same page, while also serving as his last opportunities to catch the eyes of the college coaches.
"He's a mature kid and he's grown through this," Lomeli said. "He can put on a lot of different faces going to the next level instead of just being a scorer -- the shooting guard he's been for three years here. On the other side, it would have been nice for Kent to go out with a winning team."
Foster has had a few four-year feelers, most notably from Cal State East Bay, and hasn't ruled out attending a community college to get stronger before transferring to a four-year school.
"I hope to get a scholarship to play somewhere," Foster said. "Right now, East Bay is in touch, so hopefully that works out for me. I hope someone calls. I'm out here, my grades are good and I want to play somewhere."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.