ATASCADERO — Heading into the final game of the season, the Atascadero High School varsity boys basketball team played itself into a face off with Arroyo Grande for third place. Falling to the Eagles on Jan. 20, in the first meeting between the two, Atascadero lost a step in the race for a league title, and a loss to Pioneer Valley put them in a tie for third approaching the Feb. 10 game against the Eagles.
Arroyo Grande entered Ewing Gymnasium with a slight mental edge over the Greyhounds, and held onto that edge through four quarters to steal a 61-56 victory.
A 13-11 lead after the first quarter bled into a 31-24 halftime advantage. Once again, sharp outside shooting put the pressure on the trailing Greyhounds and 3-pointers kept the momentum up for the Eagles.
The Greyhounds kept their own pressure on, however, and pulled within three points early in the fourth quarter.
With 6:22 on the game clock, AHS senior Elijah Cooks had a chance to tie with a 3-pointer, trailing, 45-42.
The miss led to a 3-pointer by the Eagles, who extended the lead through crucial final minutes.
On defense, Atascadero protected the key with solid performances by AHS junior Kyler Warren and Cooks.
AGHS senior Will Silmon drove on AHS junior Levi Williams, and tossed up a set for a spike by Cooks, who swatted the shot attempt to Warren.
Still trailing, 48-42, the Hounds needed a momentum swing, but a turnover at the other end put the Eagles back in charge. A foul put AGHS at the line to convert two free throws, and the weight of inevitability began to sit in the shoulders of the players and fans alike.
Looking for an advantage, the Hounds moved the ball around the perimeter and in to Warren in the post for a score with 3:55 remaining.
An Eagles’ score in the post, and a subsequent 3-pointer from AGHS senior Patrick Angle, gave the Eagles a double-digit lead, 55-44, at the 2:30 mark.
Getting back to Warren for another post move, the big man capped a three-point play to shave points off the lead.
Warren became the go-to, with another post move for a trip to the line, but hit only one of two free throws as an 8-point lead remained daunting with the clock quickly running toward 1:00.
Igniting hope in Ewing Gymnasium, AHS senior Trevor Howell knocked down a 3-pointer, bringing Atascadero within 56-51 with :49 left.
With time ticking away, the Hounds were forced to put Arroyo Grande at the free throw line as quickly as possible, and hack-an-Eagle strategy stopped the clock as Atascadero attempted to get back into the game.
It worked well enough to get AHS senior Marco Rojas a look from deep, and pull Atascadero within 59-54, with :25 left, but the Greyhounds could not close the gap.
Atascadero traveled to Anaheim to play Savanna High School in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3A playoffs.