SACRAMENTO — Big stage adrenaline can be a harsh surf.
You can ride it to glory, or you can let it pull you under, and over the course of Thursday's 32 minutes, Turlock High both rode the crest and got caught in its current.
The Bulldogs opened leads as large as 13 points in the first half against top-seeded Franklin of Elk Grove, then fell back by 12 in the fourth quarter before rallying to have a potential game-tying shot rattle out with 13 seconds left.
And in the end, they walked off the Arco Arena court on the short end of a 70-66 decision in the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs.
"We were knocking down all our shots in the first half, and when we do that we can beat teams," said senior guard Travis Souza. "In the second half the shots didn't fall and they got a lot of easy buckets. We just couldn't finish it off at the end."
In past seasons, a semifinal loss would have been cause to collect the equipment and get ready for baseball. But with the expanded NorCal regional fields, Turlock (24-6) lives to play some more and will find out Sunday the identity of its first-round regional opponent. Franklin (26-4) will meet Sheldon on Saturday night for the section title.
The Bulldogs' fate was sealed during a 10-minute span of the third and fourth quarters that started with Turlock leading 37-26 and ended with it trailing 61-48 with 4:58 left in the game.
During that stretch the Wildcats looked every bit like the section's top seed. They came out with full-court defensive pressure that didn't force many turnovers but sapped the Bulldogs' energy.
On offense, point guard Michael Rosaroso turned slivers of space in Turlock's 1-2-2 zone into three-lane highways to the basket. He finished with 24 points, 17 in the second half.
"We were out of sync in that span," said Turlock coach Doug Cornfoot. "We controlled the tempo in the first half. We spread the court and moved well.
"In the second half we seemed to stand around. We tried to take it to the hole, but there were too many hands in there reaching from behind, knocking the ball out, and the tempo of the game shifted. That's what hurt us."
But the Bulldogs had one more spurt left, and with Franklin doing its best to deny Souza the ball, junior Anthony Hubbard stepped up. He scored 11 of his team-high 22 points in the game's final three minutes and his drive to the basket with 26 seconds left pulled Turlock within 68-66.
"I thought I could take the ball to the rim tonight," Hubbard said. "Getting there was kind of easy for me tonight. But the hard part was finishing because of their shot-blockers."
When Rosaroso, a free-throw marksman, missed the second of two shots with 21.6 seconds left, Turlock had one more chance. Hubbard drove the lane and found Eric Wetzel open on the deep left wing.
The senior, who has hit so many clutch shots for the Bulldogs the last two seasons, stepped into the 3-point attempt, only to have it curl out. Franklin then hit one free throw with 10.5 seconds left to clinch the win.
"I was pumped up when we got it back down to 3 points, and I knew Eric would make that shot," Hubbard said. "He's a clutch player, but it just rolled out."
Turlock stunned the Arco gathering the way it opened the game, frustrating Franklin with the 1-2-2 zone and then putting on a shooting display contrary to most teams taking on the Arco expanses for the first time.
Five different players connected from 3-point range and the Bulldogs hits seven of 10 shots from beyond the arc to take a 36-26 halftime lead. Souza had 10 of his 15 points before the half.
"Their coach really must have chewed them out at halftime," Hubbard said. "They came out on fire and pumped up and we didn't. We were kind of flat. We broke down, and it was hard to come back against that momentum."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.