The way regulation ended was worthy of the highlight reel. The overtime was worthy of Bakersfield's most important victory in a young boys basketball season.
The Drillers beat Independence 61-54 in overtime on Friday night in the Lloyd Williams Shootout semifinals, erasing a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit and surviving an incredible stretch in which both teams scored in the final two seconds of regulation.
"It was a tough win," senior guard Stephon Newsome said. "We duked it out. We're fighters. We never give up."
With the score tied 49-49 late in regulation, Newsome hit a running layup with 1.2 seconds on the clock, which then ran out to apparently give the Drillers a victory. But Independence had called timeout after the shot and had one last chance.
Jon Moore threw a full-court pass to Derek Check, who tipped it to himself and then launched an off-balance, bad-angle shot from the corner that went off the glass and in to tie the game at the buzzer.
"That's the kind of stuff Derek does," Falcons coach Stan Davis said. "He knew exactly what to do, and he's a special player like that."
But Bakersfield dominated the overtime, outscoring the Falcons 10-3 and moving into tonight's Lloyd Williams championship game against Liberty, which routed Frontier 72-50 in the second semifinal.
It looked like Independence would be there instead, especially when the Falcons forced 20 first-half turnovers and led by as many as 12 in the first half. But Bakersfield scored the final eight points of the half and then committed just eight turnovers in the second half and OT.
"A lot of the turnovers were my fault, and coach chewed us out," Newsome said. "We just had to protect the ball better."
Still, Independence, led by 13 points each from Check and Malcolm Johnson, pushed the lead to 44-31 early in the fourth quarter. It was then that BHS went to work with its big men, Stephen Contreras and B.J. Shelton. Contreras scored the next five points, and then Shelton, who led the Drillers with 21 points, made three consecutive layups to suddenly make it 44-43.
"They just were so much more physical than us," Davis said. "I guess we thought it was going to be easy. They just got more determined when they were making that comeback."
Contreras' three-point play gave BHS its first lead since the opening minutes at 46-45, and then sophomore Latrelle Marchbanks hit a 3-pointer for the lead with 49 seconds left. Check answered that with a 3 on the other end, setting up the dramatic finish.
"My team was right there with me all night," Newsome said. "They picked me up, and that really got me going."
The teams will meet at least twice more in Southwest Yosemite League play.
"I guess if we learn from it, it's not a wasted game," Davis said. "BHS just has so much pride, they're not going to quit. We wanted it to be easy, and it's not."
The second game wasn't nearly so theatric, with Liberty playing mostly above the rim and using a 21-6 run to end the first half and take control. Kyle Ferreira scored 20 points for the Patriots.
"Their pace is so quick that we started playing too fast," Patriots coach A.J. Shearon said. "That first quarter was a track meet, which is hard with the way they play. We tried to put more concentration on the defensive end after that."
The Patriots and Drillers met in last year's Lloyd Williams final, with Bakersfield winning on Tyrone Wallace's buzzer-beating 3-pointer from 25 feet.
"We've never won this tournament, so our focus has to turn to BHS," Shearon said. "They always play hard and they really got a signature win against Independence. It should be fun."
Wallace is now at Cal, and another BHS star, Derrick Brown, is gone, as well. But Newsome said it would be unwise to sleep on this year's version of the Drillers.
"This team never gives up, and the sky is the limit for us because of that," he said. "Of my three years on varsity, this is the most heart we've had. We're just going to keep fighting."