LATHROP — On the heels of a 7-0 run and leading 52-47, Lathrop was 3 minutes away from making history Thursday in a battle between the Valley Oak League’s top two teams.
Pearl Bautista and visiting Kimball then put the celebration on hold for the lively Spartan Nation cheering section.
The fourth-year senior guard ignited a 13-2 flurry in which she scored eight unanswered points after assisting Kayia Ransom’s 3-pointer, and the Jaguars held on for a 63-58 victory that puts both teams in a first-place tie with one regular-season game remaining.
Bautista struggled with her 3-point stroke and missed several point-blank layups in the first three quarters, but she erupted for 14 of her game-high 26 points in the fourth. She also made 11 of 12 free throws, converting on all six of her attempts from the foul line down the stretch.
Following Ransom’s 3, she hit one of her own with 2:02 remaining to close Kimball in by one, 54-53. Fifteen seconds later, she put the Jaguars (12-1, 21-15) up for good with an and-one conversion after intercepting a lazy pass near midcourt.
“I just didn’t want to lose,” Bautista said. “I knew my team believed in me, so I had to keep taking shots.”
Raziya Potter capped the late barrage with a put-back layup off her own miss on a one-and-one free throw. Kimball’s versatile 5-foot-10 guard, who has signed with San Jose State, finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and two blocks despite foul trouble. She picked up three fouls in the first half and her fourth with 6:10 left in the final period.
“Razi is a unique player,” Kimball coach Mike Granillo said. “When she starts going it’s pretty difficult to stop her.”
Kimball and Lathrop are the two newest schools in the VOL, although Lathrop is on its way to the Western Athletic Conference when the new realignment cycle kicks in next year. Kimball can claim a third title in eight varsity seasons with a win against visiting East Union next Tuesday.
Lathrop High is in its 10th year of existence and still does not own a varsity league title in any sport. The girls basketball team had a chance to clinch it outright Thursday and may have to settle for a share.
The Spartans (12-1, 19-5 overall) travel to Manteca for their regular-season finale. Manteca and East Union are both vying for the third and final automatic berth to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Lathrop won both of its previous meetings with Kimball this season, first in the Stagg Delta Queens Classic title game, 53-34, back on Dec. 9. The Spartans then staved off a late run at Kimball for a 69-63 triumph 2 ½ weeks ago.
“We’re not done,” Lathrop coach Dwayne Davis said. “This is what the playoffs are going to be like. We haven’t lost this (calendar) year, we haven’t lost since December. They’ll swell on this tonight and it will hurt, and I’m glad that it does because they know our practices have to be just as intense from here on out.”
While Bautista and Potter are used to big-game situations — they were part of the Jaguars’ 30-2 team that reached the SJS Division II final in 2014-15 — Lathrop’s top players held their own. Mary Cotton led the Spartans with 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Myani Thornton added 15 points including a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left that gave them hope down 60-57.
Bautista iced it with two free throws with 1.8 seconds to go.
“They outplayed us in the last four minutes of the game,” Davis said. “We knew it was going to be tough. We battled them, we just made a couple of mental lapses right there in the end.”
The start belonged to his Spartans, who staked a 14-5 lead after a step-back 3-pointer from Thornton and back-to-back put-back buckets from Cotton. Lathrop then went nearly five minutes without a field goal in the second quarter as the Jaguars roared to a 25-20 lead. Reserve center Kryshara Gary got the Spartans out of their rut with a three-point play, Cotton followed with a 3-pointer and they trailed 27-26 at halftime.
“They started to make plays,” Davis said. “They’re a good team and it’s basketball, it’s a game of runs. That’s a tough team, and truly speaking I think we’ll probably see them again.”