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Cougars one shot short in semifinals of McDonald’s

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POSTED December 8, 2012 1:01 a.m.

STOCKTON – When Eric Duncan’s final shot fell harmlessly to the floor as time expired the El Cerrito Gauchos looked more relieved than thrilled. Weston Ranch gave the Gauchos all they could handle in a 69-66 gut-wrenching loss Friday in the 3rd Annual McDonald’s Classic semifinal at Delta College.

The Cougars’ final chance came after Daiveon Leverett converted on a three-point play after being fouled on a lay up. The points came with 18.5 seconds in the game and cut El Cerrito’s lead to one at 67-66. The Gauchos would get the deciding bucket from Rae Jackson. It was his 10th of the quarter.

Weston Ranch called timeout with 8.8 seconds remaining, setting up a play for hot-handed outside shooter Dylan Alexander. Alexander drained a 3-pointer for the first points of the game and hardly slowed down on his way to a game-high 25 points.

Alexander would not get the look and the Cougars retained possession with :00.4 on the clock allowing Duncan to get off Weston Ranch’s last shot.

“We have phenomenal leadership from the kids,” Weston Ranch head coach Chris Teevan said. “There were a lot of times they could have given up; we were down 12 in the first half and cut it to four. Some kids struggled and they made big plays at the end and they continued to believe in each other.

“We lost the game because we missed shots.”

The two squads exchanged runs and defensive spurts through the contest. Weston Ranch got off the first punch, opening the semifinal with a 12-5 run to get the Gauchos’ attention. A pair of timeouts and a burst of offense in the quarters’ final 30 seconds gave El Cerrito a 17-16 first quarter lead.

They would push it to 38-26, but wouldn’t score again in the first half. Weston Ranch got its burst from Duncan (21 points), Alexander and Justin Lassiter to go into the half down four. Gauchos would extend it to 48-39 before the Cougars would respond with another run, tying it 48-48 with nine unanswered to close the third. This likely ignited Gaucho go-to-guy Jackson who took over the contest in the final quarter.

Jackson went into the fourth with a pedestrian seven points as El Cerrito rode the skills of Blake Rayford in each quarter. Rayford finished with 18, but seemingly shared responsibilities with Jackson in the pivotal fourth.

“They call them the three headed horse, Blake, Rae and Tyrell (Alcorn),” El Cerrito head coach Michael Booker said. “That is our bread and butter and at any given time we can have a mismatch with that three-guard system. I thought Rae started slow at the beginning of the game, but Blake kept us going.

“Down the stretch Rae was huge; that is what you’re supposed to do if they want to be an elite team.”

Leverett finished with 14 points for the Cougars and five rebounds.

The Cougars will look for the third-place trophy of the McDonald’s Classic at 4 p.m. today when they meet up with Lodi High.

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