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Top-seeded Centennial loses heartbreaker to Paso Robles in section D-II boys basketball quarterfinal, 76-75

In an intense game packed full of big shots, Centennial needed just one more, and came up short.

The top-seeded Golden Hawks led throughout much of the game, but a relentless effort by an experienced Paso Robles squad was too much to overcome as the No. 8 Bearcats held on for a 76-65 upset victory on Friday in the Central Section Division II boys basketball quarterfinals at North High.

“We fought hard and did everything we were supposed to do,” first-year Centennial coach Stephon Carter said. “I just felt a couple of balls, a couple of bounces went their way. And that’s just part of basketball.”

Centennial (5-2), which hadn’t played a game since a victory over Golden Valley on May 13 because of a positive COVID-19 test, led 61-56 heading into the fourth quarter.

But an 8-0 run by the Bearcats (12-4) early in the fourth quarter, that included a technical foul on Carter for directing his players outside the mandated coaching box, seemed to be the momentum shift Paso Robles needed to get over the hump.

“I know me being a rookie coach I had a couple of mistakes, too,” said Carter, who started one senior, a junior, two sophomores and a freshman. “I felt like when I got the technical that changed the whole game. We were up by three I think at that point, they made the free throw and got the ball back. I had to sit down for the rest of the quarter and I think that kind of changed the momentum of the game. But besides that, I thought we came out and played good. The whole first half we were winning, we were controlling the game. I just feel like the inexperience wasn’t just the players, it was on the whole team.”

Centennial never regained the lead, but still had plenty of chances to win the game. Trailing by a point, Golden Hawks’ junior Blake Dibble missed on a driving shot, but in battling for the rebound knocked the ball off a Bearcat player, giving Centennial the ball under its own basket with 8.3 seconds to play.

Jay Jay Jones missed a contested shot inside on the ensuing inbounds play and Paso Robles’ Devin Perez rebounded the ball and was fouled with 3.7 seconds to play.

Perez missed the free throw, but Jayden Abuyen’s desperation half-court heave hit off the backboard as time expired. Perez finished with 19 points.

“I thought the shot was going in,” Paso Robles coach Derrick Jasper said. “It looked pretty good, online. But if he would have made it, I knew that we worked hard, we fought hard and we gave it our best shot.”

Abuyen, who finished with four 3-pointers and 14 points, made a big 3 with 1:45 to play and then added two free throws to pull Centennial within one point with 54.3 seconds to play. Dibble also nailed a clutch 3-pointer and made two free throws to keep his team close during the final minutes. He also finished with four 3s and a team-high 20 points.

The Golden Hawks took control of the game early behind a barrage of 3-pointers. Centennial led 9-1 early and then survived a Bearcat rally and entered halftime ahead 38-31 behind eight shots from beyond the arc. Sophomore Elijah West had two first-quarter 3s and finished with 17 points.

But Paso Robles, whose team consists of 11 seniors and one freshman, seemed to find new life in the second half. The Bearcats scored the first six points of the third quarter, withstood a 7-0 counter by Centennial and then tied the score at 45-45 on eight straight points by senior Darius Thompson, who finished with a game-high 28 points.

“We knew they were a really talented bunch of players,” said Jasper, whose team advanced to play No. 4 seed Atascadero in Wednesday’s section semifinals. “They have some young talented guys, but our senior leadership … so we’re experienced, we’ve played a lot of close games. We work extremely hard in practice to get to this point right now. And I’m just really excited for these guys.”

A see-saw battle the rest of the way, Paso Robles took its first lead on a 3-pointer by Payton Ramos and Thompson followed with a transition lay in to give the Bearcats a 64-61 lead with 6:36 to play.

“Our boys are resilient,” Carter said. “They’re going to fight to the end, they’re going to play to the end, which they did. We had the last shot at the end, with our best finisher. We got the play we wanted, the ball just didn’t go in. If that play would have gone in, we would have won by one point and it would be a different outcome right now. I can’t really dwell on certain things like that. It’s basketball and the boys have to learn that everything doesn’t go your way sometimes. We just have to learn from it and build toward next year.”