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With 20 seconds left, reality set in for the Las Positas College men’s basketball team. Los Medanos guard A.J. Dungo dribbled across halfcourt and stopped. Holding onto the ball. Pounding away the final seconds. That’s when the emotions started to hit the Hawks. Their dream was over. 

Guard C.J. Ward was one of the sophomores immediately in tears, the pain becoming overbearing. He took off his black No. 11 jersey and covered his face with it, blanketing himself in darkness. Perhaps he hoped that when he removed it, it would all just be a nightmare. 

It wasn’t. 

“It was just kind of crazy that it was over,” Ward said. “I’ve been here for two years. I was just overwhelmed. Like, damn. We’re really not gonna come in here and practice all together ever again. It was just crazy.”

The Hawks had failed when the lights were at their brightest. The team quickly made its way off the court, heads sagging in defeat. In the first round of the NorCal Regionals, Los Medanos came into The Nest and walked away with an 81-69 victory over Las Positas, ending the Hawks season.

Coach James Giacomazzi consoles sophomore guard C.J. Ward (11) after losing in the first round of the NorCal Regionals. (Photo by Vanessa Alaniz/ Special to The Express)

The Hawks simply had no counter to the Mustangs’ 2-3 zone in the second half. It fueled a 9-0 run by Los Medanos that put the Hawks down 59-45 with 10:13 remaining. While Las Positas attempted to claw back from a deficit that got as high as 16, they couldn’t score enough and couldn’t get enough stops. The young Hawks simply couldn’t handle the moment, with the inexperience of key freshmen showing up when it mattered most.

Much like the regular season, the Los Medanos were led by the scoring of their sophomore guard duo, Devin Carson and Ramon Bailey. Carson scored 30, including four 3-pointers, while Bailey added 18 points. The Hawks couldn’t match the Mustangs’ firepower.

Alex Martin, Las Positas’ leading scorer, finished with 15 points while grabbing 15 rebounds. Freshman guard Sterling McClanahan added 14 points, including three made 3-pointers. But the Hawks didn’t get much scoring from their twin guard duo of Eliot and Elijah Mobley. They combined for 13 points, 11.6 below their combined average during the regular season. Elijah Mobley, who earlier this month made eight threes in a career-high 41-point night, made just one basket all game.

For Los Medanos, this victory means a date with undefeated West Valley in Saratoga. But for the Hawks, it means months of agony. Months of wondering what could have been. Months of wondering what they could have done differently. 

Coach James Giacomazzi believes it will be important for his team to remain positive and not let one result sour what they achieved this season.

“Even though we lost this game, I think we have grown a whole lot,” Giacomazzi said. “Not only as basketball players, but as young men, and the maturity level. We have a lot of young people who are trying to become leaders.” 

At the 10:30 mark of the second half, freshman guard Donovan Saiyad attempted to break the Mustangs’ zone. He drove into the middle and put up a mid-range jumper. Short. But it bounced back to him, giving him another chance at a midrange finish. He missed again. Martin grabbed the rebound but the ball was stripped away. The Mustangs then pushed it up the floor and Dungo drew a foul. He made both free throws, capping the Mustangs’ 9-0 run that took control of the game.

The Hawks looked helpless against the zone. They spent many of their possessions swinging the ball around the perimeter, seemingly unable to attack the middle. The Los Medanos guards at the top of the zone collapsed whenever someone tried. The Mustangs’ frontline, led by center Tochi Onyeador, made it tough on Las Positas at the rim. 

For the Hawks, the struggle against the zone wasn’t a surprise.

“It’s hurt us all season,” Giacomazzi said. “For some reason, we see a zone and then we get away from our attacking mentality. When we saw [zone] this year, we just kind of froze.”

When the Hawk didn’t score, it allowed the Mustangs, one of the most potent offenses in the state, to play their fast-paced, aggressive style. They got good looks in transition, drew a bunch of fouls and made six from behind the arc.

The Hawks knew they couldn’t let their opponents play with pace. The Mustangs scored close to their average. They came into the playoffs averaging 81.9 points per game, which ranked No. 20 in scoring in the state. Las Positas entered the game with a record of 0-6 when they allowed 80 points or more.

During the Mustangs’ run, with 13 minutes remaining, the ball found its way to the corner to an open Elijah Mobley, the Hawks’ best three-point shooter this season. He rose up and clanked it off the back of the rim. The Hawks managed to grab the rebound, swinging it back to him at the top of the key. This time he drove towards the basket, and released a mid-range floater. Off again.

It was that kind of night. The ball simply wouldn’t fall for the young Hawks.

“I think we fell into the playoff pressure a little bit at the end,” McClanahan said. “We started making some mistakes and got in our heads. Once we were in our heads, it kept going downhill.”

The lack of experience cost the Hawks as their composure and execution failed in the moment. Los Medanos played like a team that knew exactly what it wanted to do. The Hawks seemed to get rattled.

“There’s no shortcuts or fast-forwarding to maturity and experience,” Giacomazzi said. “How do you simplify it and get a little bit better? And then by doing a little bit better, in a lot of different areas, you get a lot better.”

With 6:26 to go in the first quarter, the Hawks saw their lead grow to 26-17 after a tough putback by freshman forward Mecca Okereke, leading to a Los Medanos timeout. The Hawks went over to the bench hyped, jumping up and down with excitement. Meanwhile, the Mustangs recollected themselves and stayed focused. 

Sophomore guard Alex Ma, driving in for a layup, scored 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting in his final game with Las Positas. (Photo by Vanessa Alaniz/ Special to The Express)

Carson came out of the timeout and hit a long three, punishing Elijah Mobley for going under the screen. The next time down, Carson heaved another three from even further out, with McClanhan attempting to fight over the screen. In about a minute, the Mustangs had cut the Las Positas lead to 26-23. 

“We got miscommunicated on a screen,” Giacomazzi said. “Went under on an over. Bang. Three, and then momentum changes. And that’s all you need to do. We knew they were gonna have a run. They were a very spurt-type team, and they got hot.”

Going into halftime, the Hawks found themselves down 34-32. The second half started with back-and-forth action, but as soon as the Mustangs mastered their zone, it was all but over. Los Medanos countered the Hawks’ empty possessions with 16 points over a stretch of five and a half minutes, capped by their 9-0 run, to build a comfortable lead over the hosts. 

That mountain proved too steep to climb. The Hawks scored 37 points in the second half. But they gave up 47. 

The good news for the Hawks is that seven freshmen players now have postseason experience they could bring to next year’s team. That’s in addition to the Hawks having to rally down the stretch to save their season. So including the defeat to Los Medanos, that’s seven high-stakes games the Hawks’ returning players have under their belt. 

“For my freshman year, first year playing college, it was a good season,” McClanahan said. “We made the playoffs, we had some ups and downs, but it just makes me want to work harder, knowing I have another year. Some guys don’t. I do. I can come work next year and get us further than where we are at.”

Jakob Arnarsson is the Sports Editor of The Express. Follow him on X, formally Twitter, @JakobA2004.

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