A long-armed 6-foot forward in a guard’s body, Isaiah Victor is asked to do much of the dirty work in the paint for vertically-challenged Lathrop.
And it was he who kept the Spartans’ Sac-Joaquin Section playoff hopes alive in a hard-fought 63-62 overtime victory Wednesday at Sierra.
Moving without the ball on Lathrop’s final possession, Victor found an open spot on the left elbow where Amiel Adams delivered it with a high lob. Victor came down in a crowd of defenders, pump faked and took a quick dribble to his left before elevating for the go-ahead shot — an all-net mid-range jumper in the key — with 18 seconds remaining.
“Coach called up a play and it kind of broke down toward the end,” said Victor, who led Lathrop with 19 points and nine rebounds. “I knew we had to get this done to make the playoffs.
“I saw that I had space so I pulled up. I worked on that shot all summer and I was confident enough to shoot that shot. Luckily it went in.”
It was Lathrop’s lone field goal in the overtime period, but Dafford McKenzie and Adams combined to make all six of their free throws. McKenzie finished with18 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks, Colin Weis chipped in 11 points and Gil Castuera came up with eight points off the bench including a 3-pointer in the final minute of regulation.
With Manteca’s surprising loss at Oakdale, there is now a three-way tie for third place and the final automatic berth in the Valley Oak League. Lathrop (6-6 VOL, 9-16 overall) has two tough games to end the regular season with Kimball and Manteca left on the schedule, while Sierra (6-6, 11-14) takes on second-place Weston Ranch and Oakdale.
“They know we have to win these last three games to make the playoffs and they really want to,” Lathrop coach Craig Ward said. “They showed a lot of guts and a lot of heart. We made a few mistakes down the stretch, but just the fact that they didn’t put their heads down when mistakes happened is what made me proud.”
Sierra coach Scott Thomason described his team’s play as “erratic and sloppy,” and that’s how things played out in its last possession of the game. Jaime Ochoa (22 points, six assists) hit the front of the rim on a tough runner in the lane, and John Elijah (13 points, 10 rebounds, six steals) grabbed the offensive rebound but was tied up under the hoop for a jump ball.
The possession arrow went the Timberwolves’ direction, giving them one last chance with 3.3 seconds left. Elijah, defended tightly by Weis, took the inbounds pass and put up an off-balanced shot from the left block. Jaedon Malone couldn’t catch it cleanly off the glass, and Weis batted the ball toward midcourt as the buzzer sounded.
Sierra jumped ahead for the last time with a corner 3-pointer from freshman Ryan Borgeson on its previous possession.
“We have to learn to play for 32 minutes,” Thomason said. “Our shot selection has got to be better, and we have to learn to execute in sticky situations. We made some stupid fouls late in the game. Give Lathrop a lot of credit, they just wanted it more than us.”
And for the second straight game, the Timberwolves got off to a hot start only to end up having it decided in an extra period. Last Friday, they held off Manteca 57-54 in overtime after taking an 18-7 lead into the second quarter.
Against Lathrop, they were up 16-6 after one.
“We were up 16-6 and I told our guys we need to step on the gas pedal and go for it,” Thomason said. “We had a terrible second quarter and let them back in the game. Tough loss for us, obviously. Very disappointing.”