Forget the NCAA Tournament: Independence's boys basketball team has its own brand of March madness.
Derek Check drained a 3-pointer with five seconds left to lift the Falcons to a wild 60-58 victory over visiting Compton on Wednesday in the CIF Southern California Division III playoffs.
The victory for Independence (33-1) comes on the heels of a dramatic come-from-behind 62-60 victory over Tulare-Mission Oak in the Central Section championship.
"They just don't want to lose," Falcons coach Stan Davis said. "They showed a lot of fight tonight, a lot of toughness. That was a dogfight. I feel like I played."
Independence, seeded third, will play at home again Saturday against No. 6 Simi Valley-Royal, which beat Sun Valley-Poly in its first-round game. That Southern Cal quarterfinal is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Compton led 56-52 with less than three minutes left, but Check -- who finished with 18 points -- drained a high-arcing 3-pointer with 1:33 on the clock to cut the lead to one.
Isaac Clark, who had 17 points after scoring 28 against Mission Oak, knifed to the basket to give Independence a 57-56 lead with about 30 seconds left, but Compton (20-11) immediately answered with a short jumper from Isaiah Bailey.
That set up Check, a junior, for his final heroics.
"Every game, if it's a close game, I want that shot," he said. "It felt great the whole way. I just didn't know how much time was left. I was trying to figure out why people weren't coming out on the court."
That would be because the overflow crowd -- they were sitting in the aisles and standing on the sidelines -- had to wait for the final five seconds.
Compton inbounded the ball, and Independence freshman Brandon Robinson bumped Tarbabes junior Iziahiah Sweeney in the backcourt. Sweeney fell to the ground and time ran out.
Several fans and other coaches, including Liberty coach A.J. Shearon, reported that Compton coach Tony Thomas sprinted to a referee, bumped him and yelled until security pulled him away.
"We inbounded the ball, and there was a blatant foul, but the ref didn't have the guts to call it," Thomas said later.
The game was well-played from the tip, with Independence getting out to a 16-11 lead only to have Compton score the final five points of the first quarter to tie.
It was the Falcons' turn to close the gap in the second quarter, with a 9-2 run hacking Compton's lead to 29-28 at the break. Neither team led by more than four the rest of the way, and all of it was played in front of a boisterous crowd that popped whenever Independence stood up against the taller Tarbabes.
"It was wild," Clark said. "People sitting in the aisles, standing on the sidelines. It feels really good to show all of Bakersfield and make them proud."
Now the Falcons, whose only loss was in overtime to Bakersfield in early December, will ride a 28-game winning streak into Saturday's game.
"I'd be surprised if we didn't keep winning at this point," Davis said. "They just don't want to lose."
Bailey scored 19 points to lead the Tarbabes, who have only one senior on their roster.
"Seems like teams always play their best against us," Thomas said. "(Independence) played hard, and they're well-coached."
They also, it must be said, have a flair for the dramatic.
"This is the most fun I've had all year," Check said.