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With 23.6 seconds remaining, The Nest was eerily silent. But not because there weren’t fans in the bleachers. Rather, all eyes were on Hawks freshman guard Elijah Mobley, who had one free throw left after missing his first. One swish and Las Positas would put the Hawks up by four and all but seal the victory and punctuate his career night.

He went through his usual routine, undeterred by his previous miss. He bent his knees, rose up, hoisted the free throw, leaving his right hand in the air after the ball rolled off his fingertips. The ball spun slowly in the air, as if time slurred. For the Hawks, desperate for a win, it seemed to suspend in the air forever. 

Eventually, it splashed. The crowd exploded. Skyline still has a sliver of hope. The Trojans missed the first three-point attempt but got the rebound. They tried for another 3-pointer. But after it missed, and the Hawks got the rebound, Skyline waved the white flag. Everything went wild, with Mobley and the rest of the Hawks team hyped after finally finding a way to close out a tight game. 

The Hawks returned to The Nest a week after a scuffle broke out between fans that resulted in fans being removed from the gym. This time around, though, the Hawks and their fans had something to celebrate. They snapped their six-game losing streak Friday night, Feb. 2, with a 80-76 win over the visiting Trojans (16-6). It was Las Positas’ first Coast Conference win in seven tries. 

Mobley scored 41 points to go with 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. He made 8 of his 11 attempts from 3-point range.

The win keeps the Hawks (14-9} playoff hopes alive. After a 13-3 start to the season, they’d been spiraling toward the danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in Coach James Giacomazzi’s eight season career with the Hawks. But with five games remaining, they can still get to 19 wins, which improves their chances of an at-large bid. 

“We just have been really stressing, don’t worry about yesterday, worry about today and tomorrow,” Hawks coach James Giacomazzi said about his team’s mindset coming into the game. “When you’re in the No. 1 strength Conference in Northern California, every game is really, really tough and it’s usually the team that makes the least amount of mistakes that wins.” 

But the celebration for the much-needed win happened behind stanchions. The front row of the bleachers and the court were fooled off Friday night, forcing fans to maneuver through the upper deck rather than going on the court. The stanchions themselves were’t particularly imposing, as fans could easily duck under the black ropes, but they were a clear message of separation. The intended purpose was to reduce fan access to the court, which escalated last week’s scuffle. 

On Jan. 26, in a home game against San Francisco, a scuffle broke out between fans that spilled onto the court. Livermore Police was called and the audience was cleared for the second half of the game. It was the second incident at a Hawks game in two years. In 2022, a melee between players and fans led to a spectator ban at Hawks home games.

The incident last month did not produce another ban. But the stanchions were set up as a precaution.

Sean Prather, the head of security at Las Positas, said they’d been used before in the past and was mainly a way to restrict access to the court since fans are not meant to be on the floor. He said the barriers improved the safety for everyone involved, not just the players.

“We had meetings all week about it,” Coach Giacomazzi said, “We want to make sure that there’s not a lot of traffic on the floor. We wanted to create a space for the players, which is the floor, and then create the opportunity for the fans to be in the bleachers so they could have their experience.” 

Mobley was feeling it from the very start of the game, as he scored twelve points in the first eleven minutes of the game, with the three-pointer being his weapon of choice. 

In the second half, Mobley began to transition his focus from the three-point line to the paint, as he became much more aggressive. He gave the Trojan defenders fits, as he used his speed and athleticism to get down the lane into the paint, where he then used his footwork and great touch around the rim to consistently finish his attacks with points. 

Mobley’s double-bladed attack led to him scoring the most points by a  Hawks player since Jordahn Johnson also scored 41 points on Jan. 28, 2022 in a 117-75 dismantling of visiting Ohlone.

“I was just taking what the defense was giving me,” Mobley said. “I felt it early, hitting threes, had a couple of misses but I didn’t let it stop me.”

The teams were tied at 67 with 7:07 remaining, and neither team managed to grab more than a two possession lead for the rest of the game. 

These were the kinds of games the Hawks had been losing in Conference play, with four of their six losses being by five or less points. So Giacomazzi made a lineup change.

Down the stretch, it was not the usual cast alongside Mobley, as has been the case for most of this season. Alex Martin, Eliot Mobley, and Sterling McClanahan — three of the four top scorers this season for the Hawks — were mostly on the bench for the last few minutes of the game. Instead, Giacomazzi stayed with the hot hands of Miles Lawrence, CJ Ward, and Donovan Saiyad.

“Miles Lawrence is one of our best rebounders,” Giacomazzi said, “and he gives great effort. CJ had played last year and was a part of some of those late-game stops where we had to put him on a different guy that we needed to shut down. Because 25 (Darrin Lum of Skyline) was getting off and CJ did a really good job of neutralizing him. And then in terms of Don, he has been pretty steady at facilitating the ball, and he showed good poise at the end to burn some clock.” 

That group, led by the scoring of Mobley, came up with big defensive and hustle plays in crunch time.

So when Mobley stepped to the free throw line with a chance to take advantage of the Hawks’ clutch performance, he had to deliver.

“I just gotta knock it down,” Mobley said when asked about what he was thinking on the second free throw. 

That he did. He knocked down the free throw. He knocked down Skyline. He knocked down the Hawks’ losing streak. He knocked down the doubt that had been creeping in.

The only thing he didn’t knock down were the stanchions.

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

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