FRESNO -- Isaac Clark had a quiet first half Saturday against Tulare-Mission Oak. He more than made up for it in the fourth quarter.
Clark scored 16 of his game-high 28 points in the final period, including nine in an 11-0 Independence High run to close the game and lift the Falcons to a dramatic 62-60 win in the Central Section Division III title game in Selland Arena.
Clark, a junior guard, capped the rally with a slashing, driving layup with 14.4 seconds left that gave the Falcons (32-1) their first lead since midway through the second quarter. Clark was fouled on the play and sank the free throw to make it 62-60.
But this one wasn't finished.
The Hawks (26-4) quickly moved downcourt and fed senior forward Corbin Quinonez for a wide-open 3-point try from the left wing.
But the shot bounced off the rim and went out of bounds off Independence with six-tenths of a second left. But a desperation 23-foot hook shot from the left corner struck the side of the backboard as the final horn sounded.
“Mission Oak is so good at finding their shooters,” Independence coach Stan Davis said of Quinonez’s shot.
“I was scared to death,” said Falcons junior point guard Derek Check.
But it was Clark’s show down the stretch. And it was Clark’s driving layups that accounted for most of his buckets.
“Our philosophy is to give it to the hot hand and let them do their thing,” Clark said. “Two games ago, it was Derek. Last game and tonight, it was me.”
Clark struggled with his outside shot.
“I’ve never shot this badly in a game,” he said.
Mission Oak, the No. 2 seed in D-III to the Falcons’ No. 1, led for virtually the entire game. Independence only led once in the first half, 18-16, when Ojong Ntui drilled a 3-pointer with 4:42 left in the second quarter.
Mission Oak responded by scoring eight straight points and led 26-20 at halftime. The Hawks’ lead grew to 13 in the third quarter and they responded each time — until the final two minutes — when Independence pulled closer.
Clark’s three-point play with 14.4 seconds left for what proved to be the final score was only the Falcons’ second lead of the game.
“We were able to keep together and play as a team,” Clark said of the game-winning rally. “As a team, we never quit and we never stop playing.”
Independence has had few close games, but coach Stan Davis said he expected Mission Oak to give his team all it could handle.
“We’ve been stalking each other the whole year,” Davis said. “We’ve been the 1 and 2 seeds all year.”
Davis said the Falcons’ intensity picked up after Clark had a steal and drove three-quarters of the length of the court for a dunk with 6:58 left in the game. That pulled Independence within five.
“Enthusiasm is a big part of this sport, and I felt our enthusiasm picked up from that,” he said.
But it still took the dramatic late-game rally to pull out the win.
“We knew what we had to do,” Clark said. “It was about our determination on how much we wanted it.”
Independence had only one other double-figurer scorer: Ntui with 12 points.
Mission Oak freshman forward Austin Molezzo had 21 points and 14 rebounds, with three key 3s when his Hawks’ teammates found him open against the Falcons’ press. But Molezzo had the ball stripped away several times and had eight turnovers.
Senior 6-foot-5 center Kollan Mundley was a handful all night for Independence, scoring 15 points inside and adding 14 rebounds. Point guard Blake Shannon had 18 points and five assists but nine turnovers.
Independence will learn today who it plays in the first round of the Southern California playoffs that begin later this week.