Weston Ranch showed heart Friday, only to have it broken by Dayton Magana and visiting Central Catholic.
The Cougars overcame foul trouble and an 18-point halftime deficit to take three leads in the fourth quarter, but it was Magana’s running 3-pointer from near midcourt at the buzzer that decided this instant classic, 74-72.
Not only did the Raiders (10-0, 19-7 overall) steal the victory, but they also took the crown from the reigning Valley Oak League champion and need to win only one of their final two regular-season games for an outright share.
It was an exhilarating final 30 seconds in which the lead changed hands three times. Arvind Sandhu made a reverse layup to push Central Catholic ahead, 71-70, and Weston Ranch’s Gavin Wilburn answered with a scoring drive down the middle of the key with 6 seconds remaining.
Matt Govea took the inbounds pass and handed it off to Magana near the free-throw line. Central’s nimble point guard dribbled past two defenders along the left sideline, and after crossing the midcourt stripe he launched long-range dagger over the leaping 6-foot-5 Kodey Weary.
“If this would have happened to end our season that would have been different, but this isn’t a terminal thing,” Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan said. “They’re a championship team with a championship player. Credit to them, but the game wasn’t lost on that shot. The game was lost when we were down 18 in the first half.”
Magana finished with 22 points and seven assists while spoiling a gutty effort from Wilburn and the rest of the Cougars (8-2, 15-11), who lost to Central Catholic 62-61 on Jan. 10 and since built an impressive nine-game winning streak that includes conquests of three Bay Area powers.
“That was my big fear; they were almost playing angry and they were just pounding people,” Central Catholic coach Mike Wilson said. “I was worried about that coming in here, and if we back away that was going to happen to us.
“We came out ready to play and that set a tone for us, but I knew the game was going to be close. We knew what we were going to get from them. They are what they are, and we are what we are.”
Wilburn, last year’s league MVP, tallied 27 points, five rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks. He was supported by Mi’Son Coilton’s 22 points and four 3s along with Jordahn Johnson’s 14 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.
Sandhu added 21 points for the Raiders. Dalton Durossette scored eight of his 12 in the first quarter and pulled down eight rebounds.
Weston Ranch made the big comeback with its top scorer sidelined by foul trouble — Donjaé Lindsey picked up his fifth on a charge 1 minute, 49 seconds into the second half and finished without a point. The Cougars were whistled for three technical fouls in the second quarter as Central surged to a 46-28 lead.
“I thought the offense was so poor that it hurt our defense,” Teevan said of his team’s early struggles. “We couldn’t get our defense set and you can’t let a team like that get comfortable.
“We were kind of holding on for dear life and we made a couple bad decisions with officiating and gave up six points in technical fouls.”
Weston Ranch came out of the intermission a different team. Johnson had two tip-in buckets, and Titus Haley drained a 3-pointer from the right wing during a 9-0 run that opened the second half.
Wilburn took over from there, creating scoring opportunities for him and his teammates via dribble penetration. In the closing moments of the third, he poked the ball away from Magana for a steal that resulted in a fastbreak dunk. Coilton then nearly made a midcourt 3, hitting the back of the rim as time expired with the Raiders holding onto a 56-48 lead.
“What’s frustrating is we talked about it at halftime — we did not want to go into a shell,” Wilson said. “It was almost as if they were studying for a test out there instead of playing. In the first half we were playing the game, but credit to (Weston Ranch), they picked it up. They started hitting shots, and nobody wanted to pick up Gavin when he was going to the basket.”
Weston Ranch will need to win out and for Central Catholic to drop its final two against East Union and Oakdale to force a co-championship. The Cougars are focused on a bigger prize, as they end their league schedule against Manteca and Sierra.
An Open Division qualifier in the CIF state tournament last season, Weston Ranch will have to compete in the competitive Division I bracket of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
“I said it five or six years ago, we don’t put our jerseys on to win VOL titles,” Teevan said. “Our goals are obviously a lot higher.”
Weston Ranch 51 Central Catholic 49
The Cougars (8-2, 20-7) started the game with only five available players and finished with four after one fouled out. They managed to ward off the Raiders to clinch the VOL championship.
Prince Bordeaux led the way with 18 points, Kodi Hanspard scored 14 and Jesus Gonzalez ended with 13.