After two big upsets in the first rounds of the California boys tournament, the California Pintos boys basketball team finished in second place Jan. 18 with a 70-56 loss to the No. 1 seed Southern Boone Eagles (11-2) in the championship game. Following the tournament, California is now 6-7 on the year.
On their path to the championship game, the seventh-seeded Pintos defeated the No. 2 seed St. Elizabeth Hornets (10-5) 87-80 in double overtime Jan. 14 in the first round.
California trailed 18-11 after the first quarter and 37-30 at halftime. In the third quarter, the Pintos trailed St. Elizabeth 53-45 before they battled back, ending regulation tied at 65. The two teams were tied at 69 after the first overtime before California pulled off the upset in the second overtime period.
California then went on to defeat the No. 3 seed Centralia Panthers (8-2) 69-64 in the semifinal round.
In that game, California trailed 15-12 after the first quarter and 36-31 at halftime. The Pintos trailed 54-49 at the end of the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Pintos trailed the Panthers 56-51 but fought back to tie the game at 56-56 after a three-pointer by Calen Kruger with less than six minutes to go. Jordan Bondurant then gave the Pintos the lead at 58-56 after scoring after a steal with around five minutes to go. The Pintos then led 66-58 after two free throws by Kruger with just over three minutes left in the game. Centralia got the lead down to three points at 67-64 with 49 seconds to go, but California held on for the win.
Head coach Ron Lebel said the team had an amazing week.
"It was a fun week for our guys," Lebel said. "We played hard tonight. You know Southern Boone is the number one seed and they are the number one seed for a reason."
Lebel said he thinks the team is getting more comfortable playing in close games.
In the championship game, California got off to a fast start as the team led Southern Boone 8-2 early in the first quarter. Southern Boone fought back to take a 9-8 lead with less than six minutes to go. The two teams would trade baskets, and California led 15-14 with more than three minutes left in the quarter. The Eagles then went on an 8-0 run to take a 22-15 lead at the end of the quarter.
In the second quarter, the Eagles' lead grew as they led 29-17 with 5:30 to go before halftime. With the score at 29-18, the Pintos got the lead down to eight points thanks to a three-pointer by Jordan Bondurant, but Southern Boone scored shortly after to make it a 31-21 game with less than four minutes left in the quarter. Once again down by double digit points with the score 32-21, a basket by Braeden Birdsong made it a 32-23 game, but the Eagles answered again to restore their double-digit lead as they scored to make it a 34-23 game with less than two minutes to go. The Eagles would enter halftime up 37-26.
Throughout the second half, it seemed like every time the Pintos would start to cut into the Eagles' lead, Southern Boone would answer with just enough to keep the game out of the Pintos' reach.
Early in the third quarter, California was down 41-28, but a score by Trevor Myers made it 41-30 with 5:46 in the quarter. Southern Boone quickly responded, hitting a three-pointer to make it a 44-30 game with 5:38 on the clock. The Pintos kept fighting back as, with 4:31 left in the quarter and the score 46-32, the Pintos would get the lead back down to single digits thanks to back-to-back three-pointers by Trevor Porter and Bondurant to make it a 46-38 game with just around four minutes left and the Pintos' fans back in the game. However, California could not get any closer as they entered the fourth quarter down 55-41.
"It seemed like the same story all night long," Lebel said. "We would get it under 11, 12, 13 points and it seemed like every time we were getting a little run, (Southern Boone) would get an offensive rebound and score. Basically, offensive rebounds took a lot of air out of me. It seemed like alright, here we go, a shot and miss and then offensive rebound and score. Now it is back up to 12 or 13 points."
California is not the biggest team, and Lebel said they have to work on their rebounding.
In the fourth quarter, Southern Boone had its largest lead at 20 points, with the score at 65-45 with 3:30 left in the game. California cut into the lead a bit as the team went on a 7-0 run to make it a 65-52 game with 1:33 left, but the Pintos were unable to complete the comeback.
Lebel said that in the first quarter, the Pintos got some nice easy shots inside the paint but that the team got a little bit more timid as the game went on.
"I don't know if Southern Boone turned up the pressure, we were just very hesitant," Lebel said. "We had not played under a big crowd like that in quite a while. It looked like once the game settled in, we got a little bit more timid."
Braeden Birdsong and Jordan Bondurant were named to the All-Tournament team for California.
Bondurant led California with 13 points in the championship game, followed by Trevor Myers with 12 points and Calen Kruger with eight points.
The team's next game is at 6 p.m Jan. 23 at Fulton.