The Calaveras High School boys’ basketball team doesn’t lose often. But when they do, it seems that it’s in a game against the Lincoln Fighting Zebras. In the past five meetings heading into Thursday night’s game, Calaveras was 1-4 against Lincoln, with a loss to the Zebras earlier in the season.
Thursday night was much of the same, as Calaveras lost to Lincoln 67-60 at Mike Flock Gym in San Andreas. While the loss was hard to swallow, it was the way in which the defeat occurred that frustrated Calaveras’ players and coaches. With a minute remaining in the third quarter, Calaveras had a 14-point lead. In the final nine minutes of the game, Lincoln outscored Calaveras 31-10.
“We just put it on cruise control and we just stopped trying,” said Calaveras senior Dillon Autrey of the final nine minutes of the game. “We didn’t play hard. In the fourth quarter, we didn’t show up to win or even show up to try.”
Trips to the free throw line were a major contributor to the Lincoln victory. Calaveras only went to the free throw line five times in four quarters, while connecting on three shots. Lincoln, on the other hand, went to the line 21 times and made 20 shots. Ten of Lincoln’s 27 fourth quarter points came from the charity stripe.
“We got in foul trouble and things just didn’t go well and we couldn’t bounce back,” said Calaveras head coach Kraig Clifton. “It’s a game of momentum and they got it down the stretch. But they scored 20 points from the free throw line and that’s tough to beat.”
Neither team had any trouble scoring points in the opening quarter. At the end of the first period, the game was tied 20-20. Calaveras senior Bowie Wood had the hot hand in the first eight minutes. Wood scored 11 points, with the final three coming from downtown as the buzzer sounded.
“It’s always fun when teams come out and are scoring points back-and-forth,” Wood said. “It makes for an exciting game.”
The scoring slowed down in the second quarter, but both Calaveras and Lincoln were aggressive with the ball in its hands. Calaveras junior guard John Millsaps started the quarter with a corner three with an assist from junior Moses Moreno. With the game tied 23-23, Autrey scored in the paint and junior Tyler Adams scored in traffic with an assist from Wood to give Calaveras a 27-23 lead with 6:27 left in the first half.
Millsaps scored Calaveras’ 34th point of the first half with another 3-pointer with an assist from junior Adrian Arvizu, but the game was tied 34-34 at halftime.
Lincoln scored to begin the third quarter, but that would be the final basket the Zebras would get until 53 seconds left in the period. Calaveras exploded for a 16-0 run in the third quarter. Autrey started the run with a powerful dunk and senior Matt Dahl followed with a jumper from the free throw line. Wood hit a 3-pointer in front of the Calaveras bench to give his team a 41-36 lead.
With 5:06 left in the third quarter, Wood threw a perfect alley-oop to Autrey, which the 6-foot-8 senior had no problem slamming home. Senior Wyatt Ames scored with an assist from Autrey, who then scored a bucket of his own to extend the lead to 47-36. Moreno sunk a three from the top of the key to cap the 16-0 run, which gave Calaveras a 50-36 lead with one-minute to play in the third quarter.
“Everything was clicking,” Wood said. “We were running the right plays and we were hitting the open man, who was knocking down shots. Tree (Autrey) got some dunks in, which brought the energy up and we were just playing well.”
Lincoln ended the quarter by scoring two points from the free throw line and added a basket in the paint. Although it was only a 4-0 run, Clifton knew Lincoln was getting the momentum it needed to make a run in the fourth quarter.
“I knew that they weren’t going to go away,” Clifton said. “They never do. They are good, they play hard and they are coached well.”
The Zebras scored to begin the fourth, but Autrey pushed the lead to 11, following a three from the top of the key. But sure enough, the Zebras went on a 7-0 run and were within four. Autrey again scored, this time with a baseline hook. But that would be the final basket Calaveras would get while in the lead.
With Calaveras leading 55-52 with five minutes left in the game, the Zebras took the lead with four consecutive free throws, two of which were given by way of a technical foul. Twice in the final three minutes Calaveras was able to cut the Zebra lead to two. Ames did it with a free throw and Wood made two free throws of his own. But 60-58 was as close as Calaveras would get.
Lincoln ended the game by outscoring Calaveras 7-2 for the 67-60 win.
“It was a lack of intensity,” Wood said of the fourth quarter issues. “We just have to know that teams aren’t going to give up. We need to play hard through four quarters.”
Autrey finished the night with a team-high 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. Wood scored 18 and dished out five assists. Ames scored seven and had seven boards. Millsaps had six points. Dahl had four to go along with his three rebounds and three assists. Moreno scored three points and Adams had two.
“You are never happy with a loss, but we knew it was going to take a really good game to beat them,” Clifton said. “We played really well for three-and-a-half quarters. It’s not enough against a team of that caliber. We need to get to the point where we can do it for four quarters.”
Calaveras (10-2) will be right back in action on Dec. 29 as it hits the road to take on Rio Vista. Calaveras has one more preseason game, which will take place Wednesday, Jan. 3 against Liberty Ranch in San Andreas. It has its first three Mother Lode League games on the road as it takes on Linden (Jan. 5), Summerville (Jan. 8) and Amador (Jan 10) before it hosts Sonora (Jan. 12) for its first league home game.
Autrey knows that Calaveras can’t dwell on Thursday night’s loss and let it stick with them heading into league play.
“We just have to get over it,” Autrey said. “We need to forget about it and play hard the next game.”
Contact Guy Dossi at 498-2053 and follow him on Twitter at @GuyDossi.