When Calaveras Redskin senior Gino Alberts took flight late in the fourth quarter Friday night, few thought he would get high enough to catch a long pass from teammate Tyler Cook.
While the basketball was sailing through the air, a ‘too high’ was audible from the hostile Bear River Bruin fan base.
“When Tyler first threw it I said ... well I can’t say what I said,” said Redskin head coach Kraig Clifton, thinking the ball was thrown beyond Albert’s reach.
But the airborne 6-5 Alberts, at maximum extension, completed the Play of the Year for the Redskins.
Well above the rim, Alberts snared with his fingertips a near-perfect 30-foot alley-oop pass from Cook and slammed down a thundering, two-handed dunk sending the Mike Flock Gym crowd and Redskin bench into frenzied celebration. The superlative flush put Calaveras ahead of Bear River 50-48 with 1:37 left.
“I got the pass from Chris (Simpson) our point guard and Gino cuts,” said Cook. “Usually the last defender in the 2-3 zone steps up a little bit and when I saw him coming up, I saw Gino cut. I threw it right above the rim right where he likes it. He caught it, dunked it. It was amazing. I mean he jumped, his elbows were above the rim and he just threw it down. Our crowd went nuts — it was awesome.
“The play before that, we were supposed to do it,” said Alberts. “But if you don’t get it, you come back out and shoot a 3. It was there the first time and Cook didn’t want to risk it — because it is a pretty risky pass, especially at that time of the game. We came back down the next time and called a timeout. I went over to Tyler and said, ‘throw it dude, it’s there.’ ”
“During the timeout, I said ‘we’re gonna run “Crack” again and if we get that screen, throw it,’ ” said Clifton. “The end result was just one awesome athletic, big-time play.”
With how well the Redskins executed “Crack,” guess how many times they’ve attempted it this season.
The Redskins have played 27 games and have scored over 500 points, they probably went to the well maybe 10-15 times right?
If the guess was more than once, it’s wrong.
That’s right — one time.
These Redskins, with their season and playoff lives hanging in the balance, a trip to the Final Four awaiting the winner, courageously executed in their most pressure-packed situation to date.
“You know what, we’ve never done it,” said Cook. “We’ve done it in practice and there’s an option for it, but that’s not the No. 1 option.”
“It’s a play we’ve worked on all year,” said Clifton. “It’s the first time we’ve ran it. At practice we were thinking, ‘this might be the best play we have.’ ”
With their gutsy execution at crunch time, the No. 5-ranked Redskins, after several nervous moments late, defeated the No. 13 Bruins 52-49 in the quarterfinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championships and are headed to the Final Four. They will face top- seed Modesto Christian on Wednesday at Tokay High School at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s exciting heading into the Final Four,” said Alberts, who scored a game-high 19 points, 16 in the second half. “We need to come in determined, focused and know what we have to do. It’s always fun and exciting, but we know what we have to do.”
This game story would have read much different if it weren’t for another pair of Redskins, Szac Franklin and Tyler Phillips.
Franklin’s contributions were not as high-profile as Alberts, but in his coach’s eyes, they wouldn’t have had a chance to win without him.
Franklin’s charge was to slow down Bear River’s dynamic 6-5 Justin Beskeen. Beskeen was pretty much unstoppable through the first three quarters and had 19 points and eight rebounds.
“I think the key for us was we switched up the way we were defending and Szac Franklin stopped their leading scorer,” said Clifton. “He shut him down in the fourth quarter to zero points. And that was absolutely the changing of the game — absolutely.”
Beskeen grabbed just two rebounds in the final frame as Franklin stayed with every move and made every shot difficult.
The final shining defensive play came with seven seconds left. With the Redskins clinging to a 51-49 lead, Bear River guard Jonny Cassar drove into the lane and tried to toss in an off-balance layup.
Phillips would have none of it. He swatted the shot and the ball deflected out of bounds off Cassar with 6.4 seconds left.
“I was guarding No. 5 and he’s not their best shooter,” said Phillips. “I was in major help side. We knew they were gonna go inside because they went inside the whole game. So I stood in the middle of the key and he pivoted around and tried to throw up some kind of shot and it was right in front of my face. I was in the right place at the right time.”
Early in the contest, there was a lid on the basket for the Redskins. Their first two points came on an aggressive drive to the hoop by point guard Chris Simpson five minutes into the game.
Bear River led 8-4 after the first period.
Both teams had better flow on the offensive end in the second quarter as the Bruins extended their lead to 25-19 at halftime.
“The first half we started off real sluggish,” said Clifton. “We were getting all the shots we wanted we just couldn’t make anything. Our nerves were going and we were a little passive.”
Calaveras took its first lead 90 seconds into the second half. Cook banked home a 10-footer for a 26-25 advantage. 13 seconds later, the Redskins were behind again.
Calaveras didn’t regain the lead until Alberts buried a 26-footer to make it 43-41 with 5:05 left.
The lead changed hands four more times until Cook and Alberts connected on the alley-oop.
“In the second half, we capitalized and did a good job of blocking people out,” said Alberts. “In the first half you’re not ready for ‘this could be it.’ In the second half, it kind of hits you in the face that if we lose, this is it for us. So we kinda stepped up and controlled the game in the second half.”
The Redskins, after hitting four treys in the first half, hit seven in the second. Cook and Alberts each had four, Simpson two and Wyatt Madrid one.
“One of our strengths is our multiple 3-point shooters,” said Clifton. “Typically we shoot it better than that. But to sum it up — it was high school basketball. Sometimes when it’s at its worst, it’s at its best at the same time. That last minute and a half was just ... was beautiful in an ugly way. It’s a lot to put on teenagers.”
For Calaveras (19-8), Alberts grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, Cook scored 15 points and Simpson added eight points and also dished a game-high six assists.
“It’s been our goal all along to get into the Final Four,” said Phillips. “Hopefully we can move past powerhouse Modesto Christian and upset them. It’ll be a great game.”