HANFORD — The “dogs” mentality is something Hanford West has thrived on this season in close contests. They scrap, fight and squeeze out every ounce of effort they have until the job is done.
They drew on that mentality again on Tuesday to overcome a double-digit deficit and remain perfect in the Central Sequoia League with a 66-64 victory over Central Valley Christian at Hanford West High School.
“Like I said before, we still consider ourselves dogs,” Hanford West coach Kenneth Gregory said. “We want to be in a fight at the end. We love our chances because of how hard we work in practice.”
Coming off a 31-point performance against Selma on Friday, Hanford West guard Josiah James — arguably the team’s best scorer — struggled in the first half with only four points. But with an excellent short-term memory, he delivered when they needed him the most.
Trailing 49-37 with 2:18 left in the third quarter, James scored nine consecutive points for the Huskies, including a difficult contested 3-pointer on the right wing. He finished with 18 points and scored 11 of them in the third quarter.
“I can’t give you my secret,” James jokingly said. “I just stayed with the game. I didn’t let my first-half struggles get me out of it. I waited patiently till my time to attack and I took advantage of it.”
Antonio Perez capped the quarter off with a deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer to tie the game 49-49. The Cavaliers started the quarter on a 12-2 run, but the Huskies outscored them 12-0 over the final 1:48.
“We always have our second-half woes to start off,” James said. “We always come out slow, but they came out and executed their game plan to perfection. We had to regather.”
It was James again with a jumper to complete a 14-0 run, erase the 12-point deficit and give his team a 51-49 lead. From there it was back and forth with seven lead changes alone in the fourth quarter.
Darius Gatson, who scored a game-high 20 points, came on strong down the stretch and scored six consecutive points. His layup with 2:45 left in the game gave the Huskies a 60-59 lead and was the last time the lead would change.
After Hanford West was called for a moving screen, the Cavaliers called a timeout with 28.8 seconds to go and the score tied 64-64. A bad pass on the ensuing possession allowed Gatson to steal the ball and get fouled on the other end.
Gatson stepped to the line with 13.5 seconds left and calmly sank the game-winning free throws.
“Confidence,” Gatson said about his thoughts at the line. “I practice those in practice all the time. That’s just one thing I’m confident in. If I miss one I know I’m going to make the next one.”
The win moved the Huskies to 12-6 overall and 4-0 in the CSL, while the league loss was the first for Central Valley Christian (10-3, 2-1 CSL) and only their third of the year. Immanuel (10-5, 3-0 CSL) is the only other remaining team with a perfect league record. Hanford West hasn’t won a league title since the 2010-11 season when they went 11-1 in the West Yosemite League.
“It’s great being 4-0, but we can’t be content with what we’re doing right now,” James said. “We got to stay hungry and hopefully we go undefeated in league.”
Geovanni Lewis sparked the Huskies early in the game. In some of his first real action on the court, Lewis started the first quarter by hitting three consecutive 3-pointers. He finished with 15 points and helped the Huskies lead 16-13 at the end of the first.
Gatson scored 10 of his 20 points in the second quarter in every way possible. The junior hit from beyond the arc, underneath the basket and at the charity stripe as the Huskies led 33-31 at halftime.
Hanford West has another league game at home on Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Exeter (7-10, 1-2 CSL).