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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Kevin LabotkaCalen Kruger shoots a three-pointer Jan. 5 during the Pintos’ 56-55 win over Russellville.

The California Pintos boys basketball team (2-7) came back in the final seconds to win its second game in a row 56-55 over the Russellville Indians (3-6) during the Pintos’ senior night Jan. 5.

It was a back-and-forth game that saw the Pintos come back from an eight-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter and take a one-point lead at 56-55 after a Trevor Myers basket with eight seconds left. The Indians attempted a possible game-winning shot near the left corner right before the buzzer, but the ball fell off the rim as the Pintos were able to hang on for the win.

The Pintos started the play that led to the final score with 17 seconds left on the clock; Pintos’ head coach Brad Conway said that was plenty of time.

“The set we ran, in practice, we can get it off in about six seconds so we had plenty of time,” Conway said. “It was just making sure the guys were not getting in a hurry and rushing anything. I also kept telling them that we are only down one, so we don’t need to jack up a three.”

The Indians were able to break the Pintos’ press on the final possession and got an open look, but the shot did not fall. Conway said the team kind of got lost on their press during the final play.

“I thought they were going to look for number 22 (Charlie Miller), and they were as we lost him and fortunately, they did not make that last shot,” Conway said.

Indians’ head coach Greg Koetting said he was proud of how the team played for three and a half quarters, but that they have to work on ball handling.

“I told them I was proud of how they played the first 3.5 quarters,” Koetting said. “But that they needed to start doing the things I preach about, ball handling, if they want to win close games that they deserve to win.”

Russellville struggled with turnovers in the game, losing possession 13 times in the first half and 11 times in the second half. Koetting said the amount of turnovers was the result of having a young team.

“Turnovers have been our Achilles’ heel all year, and most of them have been mental errors such as telegraphing passes, not faking first nor seeing the whole court,” Koetting said. “It wasn’t anything in particular that California did, since we’ve handled 2-2-1 presses in other games just fine. It was a case of a young team with five sophomores and one junior doing the ball handling, not handling the pressure of a close game against a team that beat them by 40 the previous year.”

In the first quarter, California jumped out to a 6-2 lead early on, but a three-point play by Russellville’s Bladen Kremer made it a one-point game at 6-5 with just more than 6:00 left in the quarter. Tagen Higgins hit back-to-back three-pointers for the Pintos to extend their lead to 12-6 with just less than 6:00 left to play in the quarter. Near the end of the quarter, the Pintos led 16-11, but a three-point play by Bryce Mehrhoff helped the Indians close the gap to two points at 16-14 with 18 seconds left in the period. At the end of the quarter, the score remained the same.

The game was tied at 17 early in the second quarter, but California retook the lead at 19-17 with 7:00 left before halftime after a basket by Calen Kruger. The Pintos extended their lead to five points at 26-21, but the Indians kept it close as they again tied the game at 26 with just more than 4:00 left in the first half. The game stayed within three points until it was tied at 32 with just less than 3:00 left in the quarter. Christopher Seaver gave the Indians the lead with a basket to make it 34-32 with around 2:30 left in the quarter, but California responded by tying the game up at 34 thanks to a basket by Garrett Burger. The game remained tied at 34 at halftime.

During the halftime break, Conway said he told the team it needed to get stops on defense.

“That was something I kept harping on. Defensively, we had to get some stops and when they shoot and miss, we (have) to make sure we rebound,” Conway said.

Early in the third quarter, the two teams exchanged baskets until Russellville held a 47-38 lead with just less than 2:30 left in the quarter. The Pintos slowly cut into the lead as they made it a four point game at 48-44 with just more than 1:00 before the final period. By the end of the quarter, the Indians led the Pintos 52-44, as they outscored California 18-10 in the quarter.

The Pintos continued to climb back into the game in the fourth quarter, as they trailed by just five points after a basket by Burger made it a 55-50 game with just more than 3:00 left in the game. The Pintos made a free throw shortly after to make it 55-51 and got within one point after a three-pointer by Kruger made it 55-54 with 1:29 left in the game. The score was the same when the Pintos got the ball back with around 45 seconds left.

Russellville played some tough defense as they did not give up a quick look, and California called timeout with 17 seconds left. After the timeout, the Pintos were able to get the ball to Myers, who went to the right and got inside the paint near the baseline close to the basket to put in the shot that gave California the lead. Conway said Myers did a good job of getting the pass and jumping over the defenders for the basket.

Conway said the Pintos team had a fighting mentality during the game.

“Even though we got down six or seven there in the fourth quarter, we kept fighting back and fighting back,” Conway said. “I told the kids that it is a win, it is an ugly win but I will take an ugly win anytime. They really deserved this win tonight.”

For California, Tagen Higgins led the team with 18 points, followed by Trevor Myers with 17 points and Calen Kruger with 15 points. The team made five three-pointers in the game and went 7-19 from the free throw line.

Conway said free throws are a mental thing and that repetition is needed

“If you want to be a good free throw shooter, you have to shoot 50 a day or 100 a day,” Conway said. “We don’t have time in practice to shoot 100 free throws a day, so the kids have to find time to do it on their own.”

For Russellville, Charlie Miller led the team with 15 points, followed by Mehrhoff with 13 points, Jesse Daniels with nine points, and Alex Oligschlaeger and Kremer both with eight points each. Russellville made six three-pointers, as the team went 6-10 from deep and shot 11-20 from the free throw line.

Koetting said the team’s three-point percentage has been getting better lately.

“That is probably because a few of them have figured out that they’re better off looking for the mid-range shot instead,” Koetting said. “Or they take the ball to the rim more often to get the defender to back off a little.”

After the loss, Koetting said he hopes the team learns to relax a little and to work on the little things.

“Hopefully, they’ll learn to relax a little — the sun still rose the next day — and do the little things I preach,” Koetting said. “See the whole court, fake first, look at the defender and not their teammate, bounce pass. And, hopefully, learn that they can play as well as I’ve been telling them they can, as long as they do the smart things.”

The Pintos’ next game is during the California tournament taking place from Jan. 11-16.

The Indians’ next game is at 6 p.m Jan. 15 at home against Dixon.

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