STOCKTON — Weston Ranch’s Charles Jemison stole the ball with 35 seconds left and drove coast-to-coast before drawing a foul, sinking both free throws and giving the Cougars just their second lead against Elliot Christian of Lodi in the semifinal round of the McDonald’s Classic at Edison High’s Taggert Gym on Friday.
It was a lead they would not relinquish as Weston Ranch held on for a 71-70 win.
“I just read his hips,” Jemison said. “He jabbed at me and the ball was right there and I reached for it to make the steal for my teammates.”
Jemison’s free throws gave the Cougars (4-0) a 70-68 lead. The Eagles (2-1) failed to convert the next time down the floor and were forced to foul after Weston Ranch’s Raul Melgarejo grabbed the rebound, sending Gavin Wilburn to the line. Wilburn led the Cougars with 26 points along with five rebounds and three assists.
“We were struggling the whole first half,” Wilburn said. “We got in a huddle at halftime and got fired up.”
Wilburn made one of two free throws to make the score 71-68, giving Elliot Christian one last chance to tie the game. With 11 3-pointers on the night, the Eagles went to the long ball again, but this time Wilburn was there to block not one but two attempts from behind the arc. The best Elliot Christian could do is a short field goal as time expired, falling a point short.
“I knew I missed that free throw,” Wilburn said. “So, when he shot that 3 I blocked it and he tried it again and I didn’t give up, so I blocked it again.”
Things did not start well for Weston Ranch. The Eagles hit six 3-pointers in the first quarter and jumped out to a 17-2 lead.
“It was a fun game,” Cougars coach Chris Teevan said. “But we were in a hole at the start. We were not focused on the details and our assignments.”
Elliot Christian led until the start of the fourth period when Jemison’s field goal tied the game at 58.
“The effort was much better in the second half,” Teevan said. “The game got sped up and there were more possessions. Gavin (Wilburn) set the tone in the third quarter, and I don’t think he has been a top-three scorer for us all year. He is so unselfish, but tonight he had to take over a little bit.”
Makhi Turner added 18 points for Weston Ranch and Donjae’ Lindsey chipped in 10. The Eagles’ Nate Bond led all scorers with 32 points behind seven 3-pointers, and teammate Cody Doell had a double-double with 11 points and 20 rebounds.
The Cougars face Lincoln (6-0) of Stockton tonight at 7 for the championship.
Lincoln 56, Sierra 53
Jaime Ochoa made two free throws following a steal and then a 3-pointer to keep the Timberwolves (2-3) within striking distance in the final minute of this thrilling semifinal.
Sierra faces Elliot Christian today at 5:30 p.m. for third place.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said. “I think we got down 10 and didn’t give up and showed some resiliency and came back and chipped away and chipped away. We put ourselves in position to win that game or tie it. We just didn’t make enough plays and we didn’t shoot the ball great, but we’re going to put it together because we have a lot of potential on this team.”
Jayden Malone and Jaylen Jackson had 13 points apiece to lead the Timberwolves. Ochoa had seven of his nine points in the fourth quarter.
The Trojans’ Ezekiel Holman led all scorers with 18 points.