Rocklin tops Hayward 50-49, advances to NorCal finals

Thunder will meet St. Francis at Arco Arena on Saturday
By: Russ Edmondson The Placer Herald
-A +A
Every Rocklin High basketball fan, coach and player in the gym was probably thinking the same thing just before the final buzzer went off on Thursday night. Not again. Last season, in the semifinals of the NorCal playoffs, visiting Fairfield’s James Lake banked in a last-second 3-pointer from about 30 feet away to end Rocklin’s season. This year, also in the semifinals and also in Rocklin’s gym, Hayward’s Davion Berry launched a shot from about the same distance just as the final horn was about to sound. The ball ended up hitting the back of the rim and dropping to the court. Rocklin 50, Hayward 49. Thunder fans rushed out of the stands and went crazy at center court. Hayward fans were frozen. Rocklin (31-2) will now play St. Francis of Mountain View (30-2) in the NorCal finals at 4 p.m. at Arco Arena Saturday. St. Francis is the top seed in DII while Rocklin is No. 2. The winner will play in the state finals at 8 p.m. at Arco Arena on March 20. Thursday night was the third time Rocklin has reached the NorCal semifinals and the first time it has won. The Thunder lost to visiting St. Francis in 2001 in overtime and to Fairfield in 2008. “I think it means a lot to this group,” said Rocklin coach Steve Taylor, who started the Thunder program in 1994. “At the beginning of the year they set their sights on getting to the state championship . . . and they have backed it up.” St. Francis advanced to the NorCal finals by beating visiting Fairfield by 11 points on Thursday night. “They are really good and deep and we hear that they are very similar to us,” Taylor said. “Our guys were upset about (St. Francis getting the No. 1 seed). They felt like they got slighted.” Thunder junior guard/ forward Cody Kale said, “I thought we would get the No. 1 seed. It was a shock when they did.” Rocklin senior center Brendan Lane made 1-of-2 free throws to put Rocklin up 50-49 with 12 seconds left against Hayward. Berry was sent to the free-throw line when Thunder senior forward Pat Stover was called for a block with 3.9 seconds left. Berry missed both free throws and Stover got a rebound before being fouled with 2.3 seconds left. He missed the first free throw and then missed the second on purpose but a lane violation was called on Rocklin keeping the clock at 2.3. Hayward (21-9, No. 3 in DII) had to go the length of the court and Berry raced up-court and missed the last shot. He fell to the court in tears after the game and stayed there for a while. Taylor, remembering how he felt after the season-ending loss to Fairfield last season, approached Berry after the game while Berry remained on the floor. Berry scored a team-high 16 points for the Farmers. “You feel bad (for him),” Taylor said. “I said ‘you’re a wonderful player and you played a great game. I know it hurts a lot right now but you have a lot to be proud of.’” Thunder junior point guard Jackson Cummings can still picture Lake’s shot going in. He thought he was watching a replay one year later. “(Berry) got the ball and it was the same situation as last year,” Cummings said. “Pat (Stover) in front and me on the side. It hit the back and I was just like ‘wow. We just won the game.’” Lane also had visions of Lake’s buzzer-beater from a year ago. Fairfield won that game 62-59. “I thought deja vu all over the again,” said Lane, using the phrase coined by Yogi Berra. “I was so scared.” Hayward was very physical with Rocklin throughout the game, especially with the 6-10 Lane who is bound for UCLA. “That’s the most physical team (we have played) by far. The most physical team we have played all year,” said Lane, who played all 32 minutes and had a large bump on his head to help him make his point. “It fires me up even more – I take it as a challenge. Every game I know they will come and beat me up as much as they can.” Lane finished with a game-high 18 points while also blocking several shots and collecting double figures in rebounds. Rocklin led 13-10 after one quarter, 29-22 at the half and 43-35 after three quarters but the offense went cold in the fourth quarter. The Thunder went scoreless in the fourth until senior guard Anthony Romero hit a 3-pointer to put his team up 46-41 with 4:20 left. Lane scored on a put-back with 2:20 left, Cummings made 1-2 free throws with 1:21 remaining and Lane hit 1-2 free throws with 12 seconds left for the rest of Rocklin’s fourth-quarter scoring. Rocklin made just 2-8 free throws in the fourth quarter. “We didn’t execute that well (early in the fourth quarter), didn’t take the best shots,” Lane said. “But it’s the greatest feeling right now.” Stover scored 12 points for Rocklin, all inside, while Romero (seven points) and Kale (six) were the other offensive leaders for the Thunder. “Their pressure defense took us out of our offense,” Taylor said. “We knew it would be very physical. They are a very physical, defensive team and we knew it would be a battle. We knew they would be very, very good . . . this is the most physical game we’ve had.” The gym was packed to capacity with 1,540 fans for the 7 p.m. game. According to Rocklin athletic director David Bills, the doors were closed to Rocklin fans by 6:20 p.m. and Hayward fans could enter until 6:45 p.m.