The Lathrop boys basketball team is in the driver’s seat.
Avenging their lone Western Athletic Conference loss this year, the Spartans pulled away in the second half to demolish visiting Mountain House 79-61 and assure Lathrop at least a co-championship with just one league game left to play.
“Last year, the team won a co-championship,” Spartans coach Robin Hong said. “And the mantra for this year has been that we don’t want to share it.
“We have Los Banos at home Wednesday night for senior night, and if we win that game we don’t have to share it.”
The Mustangs (11-2 WAC, 24-3 overall) shot out to a 14-7 first-quarter lead and held that until the closing seconds of the period when Camryn Hayes took an assist from Elijah McCullough to put Lathrop (12-1, 18-8) ahead 19-18 at the buzzer.
McCullough finished with 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“We knew coming into this game it was going to be a hard one,” McCullough said. “We came in with the right mentality and took care of business.”
It was a while before the Spartans took care of business once and for all. There were six lead changes in the second quarter with Lathrop taking the lead for good with 4:40 left in the half on a 3-pointer by McCullough assisted by Anthony McKinney to make the score 26-24.
McCullough and Ahmad Jacquet (15 points) accounted for 17 of their team’s 20 second-period points.
“We have been preparing for the moment since the beginning of the season,” Jacquet said. “We have been waiting for an opportunity like this, and we showed up and performed for our home crowd. Clutch game, big game, big moments.
“Basketball is a game of runs, and whenever we go on one, we take advantage of it and make the most of it like we did in the fourth quarter.”
The Spartans kept Mountain House at arm’s length for the third period leading by 10 points for most of the quarter until the Mustangs closed to within seven points going into the final period when Lathrop cut loose.
Clinging to that stubborn seven-point lead, the Spartans erupted on runs of 9-0 and 7-1 to go ahead by 20 points with just two minutes remaining.
Lathrop’s Napoleon Reeves led the Spartans with 18 points, scoring eight points in the fourth period.
“Originally, I wasn’t going to play this game because I have an ankle injury,” Reeves said. “So, we had planned for a lot of people to step up this game and the intensity definitely rose up.”
Hong saw to it that Lathrop stayed the course as he had planned.
“We just stuck to the game plan,” Hong said. “It’s very easy to get rattled in a big game when a lot is on the line. The fourth quarter comes and you can start feeling the pressure and get a little jittery. But the main message for these guys were to stay composed regardless of the situation, whether we are up or we are down.
“Eliminating their transition baskets was really the No. 1 goal of the game. They are probably the most athletic team in our league by far, and so once they get into transition they can get opportunities to score. Stopping them from maintaining their runs was another goal for us.”
In addition to McCullough, Jacquet and Reeves in double figures, Quentin Bohoman and Kameron Jones (five steals) had nine points apiece for the Spartans with Camryn Hayes chipping in seven to round out a very balanced attack.
“We knew that if we were to share the ball and be more willing to make the extra pass things may end up good for us,” Hong said. “We were making the passes that allowed us to relocate well and make the baskets.”
Mountain House’s E.J. Campbell scored 12 points in the first quarter and led all scorers with 22 points.
The Spartans are scheduled to tip with visiting Los Banos on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Mountain House 66, Lathrop 45
The Spartans placed two players in double figures with Christian Belion scoring 11 points and Chris Ramos chipping in 10 points.
Mountain House 67, Lathrop 34
Caydin Phoing led the Spartans with seven points.
East Union 47, Sierra 43
The Lancers spoiled Sierra’s bid for an undefeated VOL season.
Kirk Simoni and Jackson Fay led East Union on both ends of the court. Simoni finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Fay had 14 points and six boards. They were also assigned to defend Sierra’s top players.
J.P. Abrew added nine points and six rebounds.