LIVINGSTON -- Construction is well under way on a new gymnasium at Livingston High School, but veteran coach Angelo Naldi might have a difficult time moving out of the home in which his teams have enjoyed so much success.
In fact, jokingly, he tells all who will listen that he plans to keep playing in the loud, oversized Quonset hut well after the new gym is ready for occupancy.
Of course, that won't go over well with the people in the school district who are footing the bill for the new gym, but Friday's 78-76 victory over Hilmar underscores why it's been such a sweet home for the Wolves over the seasons.
Livingston plays well at home, and despite their 32 minutes of up-tempo action took care of the ball very well, committing only seven turnovers to the Yellowjackets' 22. That alone accounted for more difference than the final score would indicate.
"We have the same architect coming, so we're making sure the new gym is going to be the same as this," Naldi said, tongue firmly planted in-cheek.
The Wolves' win was celebrated loudly over on Carpenter Road in Modesto, since Central Catholic -- with its easy victory at Gustine on Friday -- now stands two games clear of both second place Hilmar and Livingston in the Western Athletic Conference standings with four games left.
Hilmar is 16-6 overall and 8-3 in the WAC, while the Wolves are 17-5, 8-3. Central Catholic is 10-1 in league play.
"Central still has to play both us and Hilmar, and the other teams like Patterson aren't going to lay down for them," Naldi said.
If Friday's action was any indication, no one in the WAC is ready for baseball season. The Wolves and Yellowjackets went at it full speed for the full length of regulation, and it came down to the final possession.
After Livingston missed two free throws with 37 seconds left, holding the two-point lead, Hilmar had the chance to force overtime or even steal the win with a 3-pointer.
Jomar Ta-a missed a baseline floater with about 10 seconds left, Quinton McCown missed a tough put-back, and the ball bounced beyond the 3-point line, where Josh Tung missed a lean-in shot against heavy pressure that would have won the game.
McCown was his usual dominant self, leading Hilmar with 22 points and 17 rebounds. Tung had 17 points. Livingston got 23 points from Gurpreet Sangha and 22 from junior guard Brian Alvarez.
Down the stretch, McCown generally was double-teamed and kept his team close by finding open teammates instead of pressing the action.
"We're playing team ball, but we want him to have the ball in his hands down the stretch," said Hilmar coach Danny Freitas. "He's always looking for his teammates. He's a team player."
Alvarez, meanwhile, is a main reason for Livingston's improvement down the stretch.
"Alvarez has really developed into a good point guard," Naldi said. "When it comes time to score, he knows how to do it."