Most Viewed Stories
Gridley holds off Live Oak in thriller
Abrego, Haddy lift Bulldogs to 51-47 victory
In a game with this much intensity and so much on the line, Tyler Abrego just told himself to "go to his happy place." It's a technique he picked up from a counselor at Gridley High.
With a capacity crowd of screaming Gridley and Live Oak fans at Farmer's Hall on Friday night, Abrego tried to find that mental focus where all he could see was the basketball.
It wasn't only crowd noise he was dealing with. Abrego, a former Live Oak Lion, was also facing off against former teammates and classmates.
With 13.9 seconds remaining in regulation and his Bulldogs leading by four points, Abrego wasn't concerned with rivalries, crowd noise or anything else — that's why he was able to make the biggest play of the season for his team.
Abrego made a steal to stifle Live Oak's comeback attempt and the Bulldogs held on for a 51-47 thriller in the Northern Section Division IV quarterfinals.
Abrego didn't need to make up a happy place. He and his Bulldog teammates were ecstatic as the Gridley student section mobbed them on the court following the victory.
It was the first time the county border rivals have faced off in the postseason since Feb. 25, 2009, and it was the Bulldogs' fourth straight win over the Lions.
The two teams were deadlocked for most of the fourth quarter as they traded blows.
Gridley freshman Sam Cota hit a beautiful step-back jumper to extend the Bulldogs' lead to 49-45 with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
Live Oak's Aaron Pamma nailed two free throws to cut the deficit back to two points, but senior Mat Scott responded with two free throws of his own and the Gridley defense forced two Live Oak turnovers in the final 13 seconds to seal the win.
"We didn't want Tyler's last game to be a loss against the school he used to go to," said Gridley junior Emery Haddy. "We had answers for everything they threw at us tonight."
That was apparent in the fourth quarter when Live Oak cut Gridley's seven-point lead to one after back-to-back 3-pointers by Tony Arellano and Gurbeer Kooner. Haddy dropped in his own 3-ball to extend the lead to 41-37.
Arellano nailed another 3 and Romario Acosta hit two free throws to give Live Oak its second lead of the night at 42-41. It was short-lived after Haddy and Cota both found net from behind the arc and Gridley never trailed the rest of the way.
Haddy led all scorers with 14 points including four 3-pointers.
"It felt good tonight ... everything kind of came together," Haddy said. "Playing against kids you know, you don't want to lose. We knew the intensity was going to be big. We just had to keep our heads in the game and stay focused."
Haddy hit two of his 3s in the first quarter as the Bulldogs led 15-9 after the first 8 minutes. Live Oak went on an 8-0 run to begin the second period as the Lions took their first lead of the game at 17-15.
The Bulldogs didn't score their first field goal of the second quarter until 3:39 remained before the half. Gridley went into the locker room up 19-17.
The big difference for Live Oak was its inability to convert at the free-throw line as the Lions made just 8 of their 16 shots.
"It's tough losing this one, especially with it being a rival and a playoff game, but I'm proud of all of these guys," said Live Oak's first-year coach Zach Wilson. "For being a first-year coach, you can't ask for a much better season than this."
The Lions (17-6) became the first Live Oak boys team in more than a decade to win a league title, playoff game and 17 games.
Arellano led them with 12 points (four 3s) on Friday, while Acosta, Kooner and Aaron Pamma each scored nine. Pamma added six rebounds, six assists and five steals.
Abrego scored 13 (eight of which came in the second half) for the Bulldogs and Cota tacked on 10.
"I found my happy place tonight," said Abrego with a laugh. "When the student section came at me I couldn't even move."
The Bulldogs, who are eyeing a return to the Northern Section D-IV title game where they lost to Central Valley last season, will travel to No. 1 Corning on Wednesday. The Cardinals beat West Valley 38-27 on Friday night.
Gridley coach Nathan Link cracked the smallest of smiles as his students showered him with praise during the postgame festivities.
"I reminded the kids that this was fun for the fans but we've got bigger goals in mind," Link said. "It was a great game and a lot of fun."