The Golden Valley High boys basketball team closed the game with a 9-2 run to erase a six-point deficit in the final 1 minute and 12 seconds to defeat Sierra High 54-53 on Tuesday night at Cougar Arena in the season opener for both teams.
Cyrus Allen finished with a game-high 20 points, including four clutch free throws in the final 34.5 seconds that gave the Cougars the lead.
“In the past three years being on varsity, in a game like this, I would get really nervous and couldn’t put those shots down,” said Allen, who added six rebounds. “Now that I have confidence in myself I feel happy when I get those chances.”
The win was number 395 in the career of Golden Valley head coach Keith Hunter, as he closes in on No. 400. Hunter entered this season with a career record of 394-230, leading the Cougars to the playoffs in 18 of his 22 seasons at Golden Valley.
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Hunter would join his former Merced coach Vince Clemons, who coached Hunter, as the only two coaches in the city of Merced to win 400 career games.
“It’s not me, it’s we,” Hunter said. “I haven’t done it alone. I’ve been fortunate to have coached a lot of good players.”
For most of the game on Tuesday, it looked like win No. 395 would be on hold.
A poor second quarter had the Cougars playing from behind the entire second half.
The Timberwolves held Golden Valley to just one point in the final 5:24 of the second quarter, closing the half with a 12-1 run to take a 29-19 lead into intermission.
Golden Valley made just 2 of 13 shots in the second quarter and finished the first half 5 of 13 from the free-throw line.
The Cougars bounced back in the second half and it was Etrell Bowers leading the way. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound junior scored 11 of his 15 points in the third quarter. He also added 15 rebounds.
“Ok, Etrell,” Allen said. “That guy is big, strong and he can score. He plays defense and he’s good at anticipating where the ball is going. He’s always coming up with steals. I’m happy to be on the same team as him.”
“He’s a very good player,” Hunter added. “He’s a very good athlete and I’m extremely proud of his effort and focus tonight.”
The Cougars cut the Sierra double-digit lead in half early in the third quarter, but had a tough time pulling even because every time GV would make a run the Timberwolves would knock down a big 3-pointer.
Golden Valley finally made its push at the end as the Cougars picked up the intensity in their press in the final 4 minutes of the game.
Bowers scored in the lane and drew a foul to cut the lead to 51-48 with 1:12 left on the clock. Bryan Livesay then came up with a steal in the backcourt and scored on a layup to cut the lead to 51-50 with 48 seconds left.
The Timberwolves struggled against the full-court press again as Allen, who was guarding the the player making the inbound pass on the baseline, batted the ball in the air and then chased the ball down, drawing foul. The four-year starter went to the free-throw line and made both shots to give Golden Valley a 52-51 lead with 34.5 seconds left.
Sierra had a chance to take the lead when Bowers fouled Jaime Ochoa (12 points) with 8.4 seconds left, but the senior guard missed the front end of a one-and-one. Allen grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws to extend the lead to 54-51 with 5.6 seconds left.
The Timberwolves again had an opportunity to send the game to overtime when Livesay was whistled for a foul at the buzzer on Miguel Sequeira, who was attempting a 3-pointer from the corner. However, Sequeira missed the first free throw and made the final two with no time on the clock for the final score.
“If we play like we did at the end we’ll be pretty good,” Hunter said. “The last six minutes we played some solid defense.”
The Timberwolves have always been a tough nonconference opponent for GV, defeating the Cougars five of the last six times before Tuesday night.
“Anytime you can beat Sierra it’s a good win,” Hunter said. “They have a great coach (Scott Thomason) and every year they challenge in that league. I told him after the game, ‘Thanks for the one win every 10 years.’”
Pleasant Grove 56, Merced 53 in Merced – The Bears (0-1) rallied late as they trailed by seven points with 41 seconds left, but Davion Jackson misfired on a possible game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds. Jeremy Redwine led Merced with 12 points.
Steve Nocon paced Pleasant Grove with 15 points.
Atwater 79, East Union 58 in Atwater – The Falcons opened the season with a victory as Marisa Martinez poured in 21 points with the help of four 3-pointers. Kelsey Valencia added 17 points and twin sister Lexi Valencia scored 16. Jazlyn Barron also scored 14 for Atwater.
Pacheco 2, Atwater 2 in Atwater – The Falcons battled back from a 2-0 deficit at halftime to earn a draw. Gerardo Delgadillo and Sebastian Magana scored the goals for Atwater. Eduardo George and Mario Valtierra scored goals for the Panthers.