STOCKTON -- As John Sykes walked off the court at the Spanos Center, Golden Valley coach Keith Hunter reached out to shake his hand before they headed up the stairs to the locker room.
"That was a helluva performance," Hunter told his star.
Indeed it was.
Sykes put on a show with 26 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals to carry the No. 3-seeded Golden Valley boys basketball team to a 69-65 win over No. 6 Sheldon in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I quarterfinals on Tuesday night at the University of the Pacific.
Golden Valley (25-4) advanced to Arco Arena in Sacramento on Thursday to face No. 7 Elk Grove Franklin in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m.
Sheldon's 6-foot-6 star Darius Nelson and his teammates were everything they were advertised to be. Many people felt Sheldon was the most talented team going into the playoffs.
The Sac-Joaquin Section seeding committee even moved Sheldon up a spot from No. 7 to No. 6 to prevent the top two seeds, No. 1 Folsom and No. 2 Rodriguez, from facing Nelson and company until the semifinals.
"Sheldon was big, strong and wide," GV senior Alex Fletcher said. "I don't know what else to say. They were the strongest team we've played all year, physically."
So how did Golden Valley win?
"John Sykes," Fletcher said. "He's Superman. He ran our team, he scored and in the second half, he totally took Nelson out of the game.
"I'm glad he's on my team."
The 6-5 Sykes attacked Sheldon's big men all night.
The senior scored 10 points in the second quarter to help GV take a 27-25 lead at the half.
"I'm used to playing against little guys," Sykes said. "When you play against little guys, they're always faster than you. I knew I would have some advantage."
Nobody wearing a Sheldon uniform stood a chance of slowing down Sykes. When Sykes wasn't soaring through the lane, he was finding wide-open shooters.
Golden Valley knocked down 7 of 15 shots from behind the arc. Donte Scott nailed three 3-pointers for nine of his
13 points. Fletcher added a pair and finished with 11 points.
"Their system makes it tough," said Sheldon coach Scott Gradin, whose team finished the season with a 19-10 record. "Anytime you make a mistake on the perimeter, they're going to make a 3-pointer. That's what they want.
"Their best offense was our turnovers."
Still, the game was close throughout.
Nelson and four-year point guard Marcus Jackson each scored 18 points.
Neither team led by more than four points during the entire fourth quarter.
Both teams went back and forth with Sheldon pulling ahead 61-57 with the help of a 3-point play by Nelson and a basket by Tramiane Moore with 2:21 left in the game.
Sykes answered back and then fellow senior Scott Livesay hit the biggest shot of the game.
Livesay faked a shot to free himself from Nelson on top of the key. He then sank a leaning 3-pointer that brought the GV faithful to their feet and gave his team a 62-61 lead with 1:24 left.
"That's just like him," Hunter said. "Scott is tough. He's a competitor. It doesn't matter what sport we could be playing and he'd probably be the best player out there."
Golden Valley did just enough from the free-throw line in the final minute to hold off Sheldon. Golden Valley made
7 of 12 from the free-throw line during that stretch.
When Jackson missed a shot in the lane with five seconds remaining, the chants of "Arco" rang out from the Golden Valley crowd.
"It feels great," Sykes said. "I remember going to Arco when I was a little kid when my dad was coaching at Golden Valley.
"Now I finally get to go. I've been waiting for this for a long time."
Sac-Joaquin Section Division I quarterfinals
GOLDEN VALLEY 69, SHELDON 65
At University of the Pacific
Sheldon 12 13 18 22 -- 65
Golden Valley 12 15 18 24 -- 69
SHELDON -- Burnis Chambers 6, Darius Nelson 18, Marcus Jackson 18, Ramon Eaton 9, Tramiane 12, Charles Kennedy 2. Totals: 23 18-28 65.
GOLDEN VALLEY -- Scott Livesay 9, Donte Scott 13, John Sykes 26, Alex Fletcher 11, Garrett Hill 7, Justin Wootten 3. Totals: 25 12-21 69.
3-pointers: Sheldon 1 (Eaton 1), Golden Valley 7 (Scott 3, Fletcher 2, Wootten 1, Livesay 1); Team Fouls: Sheldon 18, Golden Valley 20; Fouled Out - Nelson (S).
Records: Sheldon 19-10, Golden Valley 25-4.