TRACY — Lathrop has benefitted from its nonleague overtime loss in front of a partisan crowd at Patterson last Saturday, Feb. 3.
The Spartans have since come up with huge Valley Oak League victories on the road to remain in the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason hunt, the latest being Friday’s 63-54 win over Kimball.
“It’s enormous for us,” Lathrop coach Craig Ward said. “This is something I knew they were capable of doing all year. Playing in a hostile environment last weekend helped us out a lot, because the atmosphere on Wednesday (a 63-62 overtime win at Sierra) and tonight was crazy.”
Kimball (5-8 VOL, 12-14 overall) also needed a win Friday to have a shot at the playoffs.
Lathrop (7-6, 10-16) set the tone with a 21-9 first quarter anchored by Isaiah Victor and Dafford McKenzie. Victor, who hit the game-winning shot against Sierra just two days prior, scored 12 of his 16 points in the opening quarter and finished with three 3s.
McKenzie contributed nine points in the first and totaled a game-high 27 points which included two power dunks and an alley-oop slam.
Kai Ballungay, who had 14 points to lead Kimball after early foul trouble, spearheaded a second-half charge for the home squad. The Jaguars were able to tie it at one point in the second half, but Amiel Adams and McKenzie sank eight of 10 free throws in the fourth to put it away. Rashid Potter chipped in 13 points for Kimball.
Lathrop remains in a three-way tie for third place with Sierra and Manteca with one game to go. The top three VOL teams earn automatic berths to the playoffs, and at-large bids are available for teams that finish in the top 12 of the SJS Division III MaxPreps computer rankings. The Spartans are the lowest of the three at No. 24, according to the most recent rankings.
Sierra gave itself an edge by upsetting second-place Weston Ranch in overtime on Friday. Lathrop hosts Manteca next Wednesday in the regular-season finale.
“That’s not good for us,” Ward said of the Sierra win. “All we can control is our attitude and our effort. It’s still anybody’s game.”