SARATOGA — With just under eight minutes left in the game, sophomore center Jordahn Johnson was visibly frustrated. With the Hawks down 78-56, the 6-foot-7 center from Mountain House, Calif., ran down the floor and was body-bumped by West Valley center Malik Patton.
In the midst of some chirping back and forth between Patton and Johnson, a referee came flying in to give each player a technical foul. The problem for Las Positas: it was Johnson’s second technical foul of the game. He was ejected.
The Vikings’ bench waived goodbye to Johnson as he left the floor. They knew it was the nail in the Hawks’ coffin.
Johnson picked up his bag and his warmups and made his way out the door. Hawks’ trainer Anela Schenone went to chase Johnson out of the north gym doors. But Johnson’s body language screamed frustration, disappointment and fatigue.
That scene encapsulated the Hawks’ night on the floor.
Turnovers, missed shots and fouls eventually led to the Hawks’ downfall on Saturday night. Their Cinderella run to the state tournament ends in the NorCal Regional final as they were defeated 88-75 at West Valley College. Las Positas finishes the season 19-12.
The disappointment was palpable, for sure. But history will remember these Hawks for doing what no others have done. They won 46 games in two seasons, the most in a two-year stretch in the prorgam’s history. That includes five playoff games and the first-ever trip to the state tournament in 2022. They just knew this year would be the second.
“No one in [Las Positas College] history has gone to an Elite Eight, and then a Sweet 16 as well back to back,” Giacomazzi said. “So these guys are part of history … So they’ve got something they’ve earned. Something that hasn’t happened in [our] college history before.”
The Hawks held an early 11-point lead but couldn’t maintain it. A 26-point performance by sophomore guard Isaiah Victor wasn’t enough to get the Hawks to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season.
Already undermanned, the Hawks were plagued with foul trouble and fatigue.
However, despite the sadness and disappointment of not making it to the state championships, this season figures to be remembered for the adversity the club overcame to come just a game short.
LPC’s run this season could very well be one of head coach James Giacomazzi’s best seasons when it’s all said and done, considering the many obstacles he and the team endured.
This team was presumed dead in the water after losing one of their top scorers, Jaden Phillips, to a suspension earlier this season. After beating Diablo Valley College in the first round, few outside of staunch Hawks supporters gave them a shot to beat No. 4-seeded Yuba College on the road in front of a hostile crowd. But they did it.
“I told the kids,” Giacomazzi said, “I didn’t even have a speech prepared, because I felt that we were gonna be successful. And at the end of the day, though, all you can try to do is play as hard as you can, and leave it on the floor.”
The Hawks got off to a quick start. LPC took an 18-8 lead with just over 13 minutes left after sophomore forward Brandon Fisher scored on a tough finish that forced WVC to call a timeout. At the 10:23 mark of the first half, sophomore forward Evan Johnson sank a free throw that gave LPC their biggest lead of the game at 23-12.
But from there, the home team and their crowd woke up.
The Vikings went on an 8-0 run to cut the Hawks’ advantage to three points. On top of the big run from the host Vikings, things went worse for LPC.
Johnson picked up his third foul of the game with 7:12 left in the first half. It was a huge blow to the Hawks as they lost their first option on offense and the anchor of their defense. West Valley took advantage right away. Vikings guard Baron Bracey hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key that ignited a 14-6 run that put WVC ahead 34-29 lead.
But as the Hawks have done all season, they weathered the storm. LPC came back to tie the game at 39 with 2:55 left in the half.
West Valley scored the final six points of the half to take a 45-39 lead into the locker room. LPC was still in good shape. They are no strangers to deficits, to battling back, to digging deeper.
But this was different.
The Vikings controlled most of the game. Even when they were down, it still felt as if it was their game to win. They knew the Hawks thrived in chaos. So WVC did everything to bring peace to the game by executing.
A minute and 10 seconds into the second half, Johnson picked up his first technical foul. He made a shot and thought he was fouled. He made a gesture to the referee suggesting as much and was hit with a “T.” The end was near at that point.
“I think that the game could have gotten out of hand,” said Johnson, who said the officiating shifted the momentum, “and that things couldn’t have gotten much worse. But it did. We noticed that they gave us technicals for certain things, but they didn’t give them any technicals.”
The Vikings made two free throws, followed by another basket, and the Hawks deficit was into the double-digits, down 49-39.
The mountain was hard enough o its own. On the road again. Playing one of the better programs in the state. Lacking depth. Suddenly, the mountain got steeper as they had to climb from a 10-point deficit. But the turn of events re-energized West Valley Crowd. The same club that usually isn’t fazed finally seemed to be cracking.
From there, it was bucket after bucket for the Vikings.
Layups through contact layups. Top of the key jumpers. Corner 3’s. It didn’t matter. The Vikings were throwing stones into the ocean and hitting fish at the bottom of the reef.
LPC players were visibly defeated.
It started with finger-pointing at teammates after missed defensive assignments. It escalated to hanging heads after turnovers and eventually faces painted with the harshess of reality following West Valley baskets.
So when Johnson was ejected, it was more a final blow than the deciding factor.
Eventually, the final buzzer would sound. The Vikings contingent celebrated. The handshake line commensed and the end became official. Las Positas’ season was over.
But it ended much later than anyone expected.
It could have ended after the fight that broke out against Foothill College led to a spectator ban that had the Hawks play five games without crowds. It also cost them Phillips, who never returned to the team after the incident.
It could have ended when they trailed Diablo Valley by 10 points in the second half, or when point guard Jalen Patterson caught a cramp with two minutes left.
It could have ended when in Yuba City, when they were heavy underdogs taking on one of the best teams in the state.
The Hawks’ grit pulled them through each time. So when they had a 12-point lead on the road against the No. 7 team in the state, they seemed ready for this challenge like they were all the others. But a mix of questionable calls, fatigue, sketchy decisions and limited offense spelled their demise.
“They’re a resilient bunch,” Giacomazzi said. “We’ve had to pivot a lot with different things and circumstances. We just kept going. We could have made excuses of why we don’t want to win, or we don’t want to do this. And we never did it. We just said, ‘Let’s just go. Let’s go with what we got. Let’s go with who we got. And let’s keep pushing.’ There’s no reason why we can’t win. We just tried to keep competing and, and, and fighting, and a lot of times it was good enough. And sometimes, like tonight, it wasn’t.”
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