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HANFORD — The Bullpups led a late charge in the final minutes and were knocking on the doorstep of a comeback win, but it wasn’t enough as the Bullpups came up short 57-55 to Fresno High in the CIF Central Section Division II quarterfinals.

Down seven with 2:27 left in the fourth quarter, the Bullpups went to work. Hanford forward Jayshaun Collins — who was a force underneath the basket all night long — scored on consecutive possessions to cut the lead to three.

The Hanford defense picked up in the zone and made it hard for Fresno to find an open look. Instead they drove to the basket and were called for an offensive foul.

Collins was on cue with another clutch basket to bring the Bullpups to within one with 33 seconds left. An intentional foul followed with 11.1 seconds left and Fresno split a pair of free throws at the line, missing the second shot.

After the miss, the plan was simple. Hanford was to attack, take the ball to the rim and look for the tie. They didn’t want to call a timeout and allow Fresno to set their defense.

The Bullpups came up the floor and made three passes around the perimeter. The Warriors’ defense played the possession perfectly and time ran out before Hanford could get a shot up.

“We weren’t aggressive enough and then we passed the ball around the perimeter instead of attacking the rim,” Hanford coach Brad Felder said. “It’s a calculated risk, but we have guys that are pretty good in the open court and we just thought that was a good situation for us.”

Collins put up a shot that bounced off the back of the rim, but it wouldn’t have counted even if it went in. The senior finished with a game-high 26 points, including 10 in the fourth.

“They were playing good defense and we froze up,” Collins said about the final play.

Players were emotional after the game, especially the five seniors on the team. Collins pulled his jersey over his head, Ju’pri Hughes bent over in disbelief and the stunned crowd was silent.

“It just sucks,” Hanford forward Austin Serpa said. “After four years, putting all that work, finishing it off like this…would’ve had it differently.”

It was Hanford’s second year in a row getting upset in the playoffs. Last season they lost to 10-seed Hoover and this year it was 10-seed Fresno.

The 2-seed Bullpups were in a tight game from the tipoff with back-and-forth scoring in the first quarter. Fresno (10-21, 6-4 NYL) led 17-16 after eight minutes.

Hanford (21-8, 9-3 WYL) picked it up in the second by starting the quarter on a 10-2 run. Hanford forward Austin Serpa, who finished with 10 points, hit a 3-pointer and forced a turnover on the ensuing possession, which led to Cesar Mota’s three-ball.

Fresno scored five quick points after a timeout, but the Bullpups led 30-24 at halftime.

If there was one Achilles’ heel for the Bullpups all year long, it was the third quarter. It reared its ugly head again on Thursday when Hanford came out flat and the Warriors started hitting shots.

Fresno outscored Hanford 23-10 in the third, hit three 3-pointers and started the quarter on a 12-4 run to eventually take a 47-40 lead headed into the fourth. The Bullpups had no answer in the third as they turned the ball over six times in a row and struggled to contain Fresno on the offensive glass. The Warriors finished with 17 offensive rebounds in the game.

“They just started knocking down threes and that’s what changed the game,” Serpa said.

The Bullpups end the season with a West Yosemite League title and reached the 20-win mark for the first time in three years.

“I’m going to miss this group of seniors because they’re a special group,” Felder said. “They’re leaving their mark on a positive note on the program, which I love them for and appreciate them for.”

They’ll be losing Hughes, Serpa, Collins, Adam Avila and Karsten Gregory as seniors. Hughes finished with three points, Avila scored two and Juaron Watts-brown, a junior, added 11 points. Gregory — one of their leading scorers — did not play in the game due to an ankle injury.

“It’s a life experience with my homies and I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else,” Serpa said. “It taught me a lot.”

Noe Garcia can be reached at (559) 583-2431 or Follow Noe on Twitter at @noecarlosgarcia.

Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Sentinel

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