HANFORD — Before the starting lineups were announced, before the back-and-forth jawing and before the Huskies and Bullpups battled it out to see who was top dog, there was some important business to tend to first.
It was the final home game of the season for Hanford and with that came Senior Night.
The Bullpups honored their five seniors before the game: Karsten Gregory, Ju’pri Hughes, Austin Serpa, Jayshaun Collins and Adam Avila.
Each was recognized and a statement they had prepared was read by the announcer. They also received a rose, which they then gave to a family member in the bleachers.
And Hanford wasn’t going to let the special moment be marred with a loss. The Bullpups (19-7, 8-2 WYL) led wire-to-wire in their 80-65 victory and continue to hold sole possession of first place in the West Yosemite League.
“It’s good to finish on a win,” Gregory said. “It felt good to get it with my 'brothers.'”
Gregory tied with Collins for a team-best 24 points. The two couldn’t be contained on the floor. It was Gregory with his shot and Collins finishing underneath the glass.
For Hanford West, sophomore guard Josiah James was an unstoppable force to say the least. James repeatedly got inside and did what he wanted on the court.
He put up a game-high 36 points and dominated from start to finish. He scored 14 of the Huskies 19 points in the third quarter after scoring 13 in the first half.
Serpa, who admitted he was nervous before the game, added another 15 points and Hughes and Darien Jeffries each scored six points. Serpa said the thing he’ll miss the most is playing with his "brothers."
“I’ve been playing with them since fourth grade so I wouldn’t play with anybody else,” Serpa said.
Hanford coach Brad Felder said the pregame ceremony was “very rewarding” and that he’s become close with the boys after seeing them every day. He added that he knows the boys will be successful in whatever they choose.
“They became part of your life for that period of time they’re with you,” Felder said. “You see them through the summer and all the time…it’s a responsibility that I’m honored to have. I love this group particularly because they’re good people as well as good players.”
And good players they were Friday night.
The Bullpups jumped out to a 7-0 lead with Gregory hitting a 3-pointer that got the crowd on its feet. The Huskies (8-17, 2-8 WYL) responded with their own 3-ball, but Serpa matched them with one of his.
Hanford West coach Kenneth Gregory called a timeout with 4:50 left in the first quarter and his team trailed 12-7.
The Huskies couldn’t get much to drop from the outside, but carved up the paint. Still, Hanford led 22-17 after an energetic first quarter.
The Bullpups stretched their lead to nine with 3:18 left in the half on Serpa’s layup. Then they made it 10 with under 10 seconds to go, but Huskies guard Isaac Garcia hit a deep buzzer beater three to cut the lead to 38-31 at the half.
Garcia’s 3-pointer capped off an excellent second for him where he hit three shots from beyond the arc.
As Felder put it, the third quarter has been the Achilles heel for the Bullpups much of this season, but they’ve really focused on owning it the last couple games. Hanford used a 16-5 run in the middle of the third to grab a 16-point lead — their largest of the night.
Hanford had its highest scoring quarter of the night with 24 points in the third and led 62-50 entering the fourth.
The Huskies tried to mount a comeback, but Hanford had an answer every time.
“We got tired of those teams coming back,” Gregory said. “We just tried to keep the foot on the gas.”
As the game ended, teammates hugged, fans congratulated the players and more pictures were in order for the seniors. It was a night for the books.
Felder said his team isn’t feeling any pressure from being in first place. They’re just taking every game one at a time.
Redwood is right behind the Bullpups at 7-3 in league and Mt. Whitney stands in third at 6-3. The last two games of the season could decide plenty.
Serpa is taking it a game at a time, but has his sights set on “winning out, winning league and then taking Valley.”
Hanford will conclude its season with two road games. They’ll face Mt. Whitney (16-9, 6-3 WYL) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The Bullpups led by 16 at home earlier in the month before the Pioneers mounted a huge comeback in the second half and stole the game.
Hanford West has a home game against the Pioneers today at 7:30 p.m. The Huskies couldn’t keep up when the teams met almost four weeks ago and lost 72-45.