Lincoln wins playoff opener, Sac High Dragons next

By: Galen Kusic, Special to The News Messenger
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The Lincoln Zebras stopped an unhealthy and unusual trend of losing at home Tuesday night, beating the River City Raiders 68-60 to advance to the second round of the San Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. With the win, Lincoln, the No. 8 seed in the D-III tourney, improves to a less than stellar 4-5 at home this season. Meanwhile, the Zebras have been great away from Lincoln (17-2). River City senior guard Yevginiy Dyachenko put up an impressive 31-point performance on eight three's, but Lincoln's inside tandem of junior forward Keenan Hale and junior center Jake Courage proved to be too much down the stretch. "We just seem to play better on the road, we focus more," said Hale. "At home we've got our crowd - I think we try to impress everybody." Hale poured in 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Courage added 17 points and 11 boards in the win. "We had no answer for Hale," said River City coach Jon West. "He's a man, he's strong, he was just lighting us up. We played a little man, little box-and-one, nothing seemed to stop him, he's too good." Lincoln gained momentum early when Hale stole a pass and went the length of the court and dunked hard to pump up the crowd and give Lincoln a 10-5 advantage. At the end of the first quarter, Guard A.J. Inocelda picked off another pass and went coast-to-coast at the buzzer to give Lincoln an 18-12 lead. Dyachenko was red hot - hitting five first-half 3-pointers, but Lincoln senior guard Mark Murphy's triple at the halftime buzzer put the Zebras up 37-27 at intermission. The Raiders came out playing hard in the third, and a trey from senior Gage Ostatnik pulled them within 43-41. It was as close as the Raiders would get, as Lincoln was able to contain Dyachenko and force him into taking ill-advised shots. "Couple turnovers, couple missed shots, and we didn't play defense, that's about it," said Dyachenko. "Lincoln is a good team. They played harder than us, they wanted it a little more." Another length of the court drive and bucket by Hale, and another buzzer-beater jumper from Lincoln junior Dusty Foster at the end of the third pushed the lead to 49-41. "We put our best defender on him (Dyachenko) and tried to lock him up," said Courage. "We were trying to get out of our defender's way - we ran a lot of different defenses to try and stop him." Dyachenko still had 14 in the second half and cut the lead to six with just over three minutes to play, but two of his three's were too late to make a difference. "We were just trying to contain Dyachenko," said Lincoln coach Mike Murphy. "I told my team he can get 38 off us, as long as we make it a tough 38 and we make everyone else not a factor. You give credit to Steven Bobyk and Josh Anderson, they played him tough. We kept him honest." Lincoln hit 9-of-10 free throws in the final minutes to seal the victory. The Zebras pounded the ball inside and controlled the tempo virtually the entire second half. "We wanted to make them play defense down low and get into foul trouble," said Murphy. "We wanted to go right at them." With the win, Lincoln improves to 21-7 and advances to take on the top-seeded Sacramento High Dragons on Friday. Sacramento is 21-6 on the season, and has reeled off 12 straight wins - going undefeated in the Metro league. "Our big thing is keeping our composure - we've got to not turn the ball over," said Murphy. "If we can at least keep our composure and get into some offense, we can stay in the game. That's a very talented team. We're gonna have to play really good or get lucky to win."