Two boys basketball semifinals Friday night that couldn't have been much more different have yielded an intriguing title game of the Garces Holiday Hoops Challenge.
In the first semifinal, Garces ran and shot its way past Tulare-Mission Oak, 90-88 in overtime behind virtuoso performances from junior Rashad Jackson (34 points, 12 rebounds), sophomore Sheldon Croney (25 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) and senior Tim Pena (24 points).
In the second, Independence slugged its way past Bakersfield, 46-37. After the gym had emptied, Garces coach Gino Lacava caught Independence coach Stan Davis on his way out the door. Their teams will meet at 8 tonight in the championship game.
"We're all finesse, and you guys are like Mike Tyson," Lacava told Davis. "It's gonna be like Sugar Ray Leonard against Mike Tyson tomorrow."
The Rams (9-3) led for most of the night and by as many as 16 in the first half before Mission Oak (11-3) made a big run behind the shooting of guards Blake Shannon (27 points) and Bobby Alvarado (22 points) and the inside game of Kollan Mundley (20 points, 22 rebounds).
“It was a battle all the way to the end,” Jackson said. “It’s nice that way. That’s how I like it.”
Croney put back a missed shot to tie the game at 75 with three seconds left in regulation, and Jackson took care of the end of overtime.
He missed two free throws that could have iced the game for Garces with 11 seconds left, but then stripped the ball from Shannon — who had scored 21 points since halftime — on the other end and hit two free throws with 3 ticks on the clock to make up for it.
“(The misses) were on my mind a little bit, but I had to let it go and move on to the next play, because that was just as important,” Jackson said. “It’s a great win for us.”
Croney flirted with a triple-double for the second straight night and kept Mission Oak at bay with 19 second-half points and four more in overtime.
“Sheldon is a great sophomore,” Jackson said. “He won this game for us.”
Now the Rams will play Independence (14-1), which avenged its only loss of the season, an overtime defeat to Bakersfield in the semifinals of the Lloyd Williams tournament at North.
In this one, the Falcons trailed 22-19 at halftime but turned up the defense after that, allowing the Drillers only seven points over the next 13 minutes. During that time, Independence built a double-digit lead.
“It was a grinder,” Davis said. “We decided we had to be physical with them and not back down.”
In the first meeting, Independence built a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter only to see Bakersfield storm back and eventually win in overtime. The Drillers pushed back in this one, too, but got no closer than six in the closing minutes.
“Last time they kind of willed their way back in it; this time, we stood our ground a little better,” Davis said. “We got a little more bulldog.”
Mission Oak will play Bakersfield at 6:30 p.m. in the third-place game. Before that, East, which beat Fresno-Washington Union, will play for fifth place against Frontier, a winner against El Segundo. Mira Monte and West will meet for the consolation championship.