LEMOORE — Entering Tuesday’s West Yosemite League game, Lemoore found themselves on a four-game losing streak and urgently searching for another win.
A win against a good Mt. Whitney team could jumpstart the Tigers and get them back over .500 on the season.
Facing a 15-point halftime deficit, Lemoore cut the lead to four in the fourth quarter but ultimately dropped their fifth in a row 61-49.
“You’re down 15 points at half, you’re trying to dig yourself out of a hole and sometimes the hole’s too big to climb out of,” Lemoore coach Joel Sligh said. “We can’t afford to put ourselves down by that much.”
The loss drops the Tigers to 1-2 in the WYL (7-8 overall) and into a tie with Golden West and El Diamante, also 1-2 in league. In three league games, Lemoore is a -6 having been outscored 163-169.
During their five-game slide, offense has been hard to come by with the Tigers averaging 50 points per game. This is far from the rest of their season where they average 65.7 points per game.
Lemoore small forward Bryce Hernandez — who scored a team-high 10 points — hit two free throws with 5:17 left in the fourth to tighten up the score 48-44.
The four-point gap was the closest the Tigers had been since they trailed 3-0 in the opening moments of the game.
With their lead dwindling, Mt. Whitney (12-5, 3-0 WYL) called a timeout. They came out and attacked the basket for a layup, but then missed two free throws.
Free throws were a big issue on both sides Tuesday night with the Pioneers shooting 11-of-26 and the Tigers going 17-of-34 from the charity stripe.
“It was just a bad night,” Lemoore’s Damien Goudeau said. “You just have to keep shooting free throws during water breaks and whenever we can.”
After a basket and an exchange of free throws, Tigers center Christian Picazo drove to the basket and made it a four-point game again with under three minutes to play. But they would get no closer as Lemoore went cold down the stretch, while the Pioneers hit some free throws and came up with a couple of steals.
“I think it stalled because we got too ahead of ourselves,” Tigers guard Jaydan Bray, who finished with eight points, said. “We were fouling, not making shots after that — broke down.”
The Tigers started the game ice cold. Down 9-0, Sligh called a timeout with 5:52 in the first. Coming out of the timeout, the Tigers turned the ball over and Mt. Whitney drained a 3-pointer.
“We’ve had a lot of games where we had moments where we can’t seem to get going, our moment just happened to come at the beginning of the game,” Sligh said.
Lemoore power forward Goudeau — who scored six points — finally broke the scoreless drought with a steal and layup. The team seemed to loosen up a bit after the first points and a couple of baskets started to fall.
But stopping the Pioneers was another challenge.
With Anthony Valencia standing at 6 feet 4 inches and Bo Larsen at 6 feet 1 inch, the two big men used their size to dominate Lemoore in the paint. The Tigers struggled to rebound the ball and limit second-chance points.
The Tigers trailed 20-11 after one and things were even tougher in the second.
The Pioneers used hot outside shooting to combat the Tigers 2-3 zone and a stingy defense to limit clean looks. Lemoore had 20 free throws in the first half, but only made eight and trailed 35-20 at the half.
“We talked about defense. Boxing out on the great shooters,” Bray said. “We just started closing out on them, they started missing, got us back in the game.”
The Tigers came out of the half looking rejuvenated and on a 9-2 run. Their energy made them play with more intensity and Hernandez started to drive underneath the basket and got to the line.
They outscored the Pioneers 14-8 in the third and 18-15 in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough.
On ending their losing streak, Goudeau said the team has to, “just keep working hard in practice.”
The Tigers have another chance to get back in the win column with a game today against El Diamante (6-12, 1-2 WYL). The road game starts at 7:30 p.m.