Isaiah Victor scores 30 points as Las Positas advances to play at Yuba College on Saturday
When the final buzzer sounded on Wednesday night, the Nest erupted into thunderous cheers and applause. The Hawks had done it, by the skin of their teeth.
Amid the euphoria of victory, sophomore point guard Jalen Patterson turned to the celebrating crowd, lifted a peace sign in the air and yelled repeatedly, “Two more! Two more!”
His ecstasy was earned. Not only had Las Positas beaten a hungry Diablo Valley squad, 84-79, to advance to the second round of the Norcal regionals. But they did it in their home gym before an adoring crowd, for the first time since Jan. 20. The Hawks played their last four home games of the regular season in an empty venue thanks to a spectator ban levied against them after an incident at a game against Foothill College.
“It definitely feels better (with fans),” big man Jordahn Johnson said. “Our fans bailed us out at the end. They make so much noise and get the players distracted on their other team.They definitely helped us out, give us an advantage.”
But the return of fans, and the same grit they used to endure this season of adversity, carried them down the stretch to victory. Hawks coach James Giacomazzi said he would ride with his sophomores. They delivered in their final home game in a Las Positas uniform.
Isaiah Victor finished with 30 points, including the game-sealing free throws with 11.8 seconds left. Johnson totaled 19 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks. Patterson had 10 assists. Brandon Fisher had 12 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and made one of the biggest shots of the night.
It was by no means a flawless performance by the Hawks. Hobbled by cold shooting from 3-point range and turnovers, they couldn’t get any separation from Diablo Valley. Their Pleasant Hill rivals, who win at Las Positas in December, used their quickness and athleticism to cause problems.
But all they’ve been through this season seemed to prepare them for this. They started the season short on players after losing guards to Division I scholarships just before the season. They lost another key player, a starter in Jaden Phillips, after the incident with Foothill College. The sophomore guard was suspended and is no longer with the team. Then the Hawks played five games in empty gyms, including four at home. They lost three of those games.
Then, early in the game on Wednesday, Johnson tweaked his previously sprained ankle and played hobbled. Then after a Patterson 3-pointer to open the second half, Diablo Valley went on a 10-0 run and the Hawks found themselves down 56-46 and facing elimination.
“I think when you play in front of your college president,” coach James Giacomazzi said, “when you play in front of a lot of spectators, when it’s a do or die game … we wanted to show well. We wanted to leave it on the floor. And I think we did that. I think our kids are exhausted.”
Perhaps no player embodied that more than Patterson. With just over three minutes left, and Las Positas clinging to a 76-70 lead, he drove the lane and passed it out to the perimeter. He crashed into a defender when he landed. He laid out of bounds on the baseline writhing in pain.
“I was hoping and praying that it wasn’t anything serious,” Giacomazzi said.
It was a cramp in his calf. Diablo Valley scored while Patterson was injured, cutting the Hawks’ lead to 76-72. Freshman guard Henry Palmer replaced Patterson, a first-team all-conference selection and leader of the Hawks. His absence didn’t seem like good news for an already tired and undermanned Hawks team.
On the ensuing Las Positas possession, Victor raced down the court and passed to Johnson for a layup. He was also fouled and his free throw put he Hawks ahead 79-72. But without Patterson, their best ball-handler, Las Positas turned the ball over twice against Diablo Valley’s pressure defense, giving life back to the Vikings.
But with 1:05 remaining, and the Hawks ahead by five points, Patterson returned to the game.
“I’ve never had a calf cramp before, so that scared the hell out of me,” Patterson said after the game, still limping after receiving treatment. “I was coming back in. For sure. Even if it was just to shoot one free throw, two free throws, play defense, I was coming back in.”
The Hawks settled down with Patterson joining Palmer on the court, giving them two ball-handlers to handle the Vikings’ pressure.
On Patterson’s first possession back, the patience of the calmer Hawks’ offense set up Palmer for an open 3-pointer, but he missed it. Diablo Valley turned the miss into a fast break and Diablo Valley guard Lorenzo Pardo drew a foul. But he missed both free throws with 50.8 seconds left.
Las Positas got the rebound and Palmer dribbled through the Diablo Valley pressure and got the ball to Patterson at the top of the key. The sophomore took his time, let seconds run off the clock, before making a play.
Patterson drove past his defender and jumped in the air. While suspended, he faked a pass that prompted the defender to run to Palmer. Patterson did that to get Fisher open.
“I made eye contact but Jalen,” Fisher said, “and he trusted me to shoot the ball.”
When Patterson landed after the pass, he said pain shot through his calf. Fisher, by himself in the right corner, made the open 3-pointer to put the Hawks up 82-76 with 25 seconds left.
Fisher has been working on that shot for weeks with assistant coach Anthony Haskett. Fisher had gone 12 games without making a 3-pointer before making two in a win over Skyline. He’s made only 24.2 percent of his 3-pointers this season. But he said he had no doubts that one was going in.
“The only thing in my mind,” Johnson said, “that was going on is, ‘I have to rebound this ball. And then he made it and it was like, ‘Thank God.’ ”
Las Positas wasn’t quite out of the woods yet. Diablo Valley got the offensive rebound on a missed Ben Tellez 3-pointer and got it back to him for a second look. He swished the open 3-pointer from the corner. The Las Positas lead was 82-79 with 12.8 seconds remaining.
All the Hawks had to do was not turn over the ball and make the free throws. The Vikings had to foul intentionally to stop the clock. Patterson inbounded the ball to Victor, who was fouled with 11.6 seconds remaining.
Victor was visibly tired. He had already missed five of his eight free throw attempts so far, including his last two. But he stepped to the line and made them both. The Hawks survived.
“I think we underplayed at the beginning of the year,” Johnson said. “I feel like we’ve got a lot of shocking to do. Put it like that. We’ve got two more wins (to get). That’s our main goal. Nobody believed but us. Nobody believed but us.”
Las Positas will face No. 4 seed Yuba College on Saturday in the second round. If they win that, they play in the regional final for a chance to make the California Community College Athletic Association state championship tournament — held at West Hills College in Leemore, California — for the second year in a row.
As Patterson put it: “Two more to Leemore.”