By SIM RISSO
For The Union Democrat
The Bret Harte Bullfrogs boys’ basketball team was flawless in the 2012 regular season. The Bullfrogs topped the Calaveras Redskins 68-64 on Friday night at Mike Flock Gym to finish the Mother Lode League season with a perfect 15-0 record.
“A remarkable season,” said Bret Harte senior point guard Jordan Gomez. “We fought hard. To be honest, coming into league, I didn’t think it was gonna be like this. It turned out to be a dream season. It’s just phenomenal. I’m so proud of the guys.”
For Bret Harte, it was just a matter of manifesting the ever-popular cliché, “one game at a time.”
“When league started we were like, ‘let’s take it one game at a time, one step at a time, one level at a time,’ ” said Gomez. “And then once we realized, after that first round, we beat everyone. So then after that we just kept picking it up in practice, going hard every game, day in and day out. And we made it.”
Indeed, Bret Harte made it and went unbeaten but the Redskins didn’t make it easy. In fact, nothing comes easy between these two schools.
Despite finishing the MLL schedule 15-0, every single MLL contest against Calaveras was a nailbiter with Bret Harte winning the three games by a combined seven points.
This contest was close throughout with neither team holding a lead larger than eight points. The game was within three points with 3:51 remaining in the fourth quarter as the Bullfrogs were desperately holding onto a 63-60 lead. But from then on, Gomez played his finest ball of the night, scoring four of Bret Harte’s last five points.
First, Gomez stole a pass then took the ball through the key, hitting a 10-foot runner to give Bret Harte a 65-60 lead.
Later, with 40.5 second remaining, Redskin Tyler Phillips hit a free throw to cut Bret Harte’s lead to 65-64.
But Gomez answered again. This time he took the ball coast-to-coast before converting a difficult layup, in which he had to contort his body to manufacture enough daylight to get the shot off.
“I was yelling for my life, ‘outlet, outlet,’ just because we needed to slow down,” said Gomez, who finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals. “I realized that Tyler Cook was in my face and I just tried getting across. I saw the lane and right as I saw the lane, came up, finished hard. I was in an awkward position to finish, but I’m so happy I made the layup.”
The shot gave Bret Harte a 67-64 lead with 24 seconds remaining.
Calaveras boss Kraig Clifton called a timeout.
He drew up an isolation play where Gino Alberts got the ball. Due to Alberts’ propensity for late-game heroics, the Bret Harte defense was focused on him. Spotting an open teammate, Alberts fired the ball cross court but the ensuing 3-point attempt to tie bounced off the rim and Bret Harte’s Dan Radford grabbed the rebound.
Speaking of Radford, he was an absolute scoring machine. He scored 39 points and grabbed six rebounds. Most impressive about Radford’s offensive explosion was his ability to get to the free-throw line where he earned 18 free throw attempts and converted 15.
“As a matter of fact, I think he’s now shot the most free throws throughout a season with tonight’s game,” said Bret Harte head coach Jerry Rucker. “He has learned how to head fake, get himself up and going and get to the free-throw line.”
Putting in a gritty performance for the Redskins was junior point guard Wyatt Madrid, who excelled in the third quarter. At that time, Bret Harte led by eight — the largest of the night for either squad — but Madrid was able to facilitate the offense by dishing out four third-quarter assists and getting Calaveras back into the game.
“Awesome second half, absolutely awesome second half,” said Calaveras head coach Kraig Clifton on Madrid’s gutsy performance. “I’m very pleased with him. Without that second half from him, we don’t have a chance.”
But ultimately it was the play of the two Bret Harte seniors, Gomez and Radford, that spurred Bret Harte to capture the game.
“(Gomez) has been a spark all season,” said Rucker. “Radford’s obviously a great player, does a lot of great things. Then the spark has been Jordan, doing a lot of great things, setting things up, big plays, big steals here and there. And then you get Radford that scores and scores and does a great job in that respect.”
Both teams are moving on to the playoffs. The Bullfrogs are the No. 2 Division IV seed and will host Waterford on Wednesday at 7 p.m. If the Frogs advance, they will host the winner of No. 7 Ripon and No. 10 Highlands on Friday night.
The Redskins are the No. 5 D-IV seed and will host No. 12 Union Mine on Wednesday. With a win, the Redskins would play the winner of No. 4 Sonora and No. 13 Bear River.
The Bullfrogs are planning on taking the same approach into the playoffs that has brought them so much success throughout the season.
“You look at it and I think that anybody from 13 on up has a chance to win the section,” said Rucker. “It’s gonna be difficult every night out. It’s just gonna be tough. Ripon’s here watching us tonight because they think they might have a chance to play us. We’ve already lost to them. So every night’s just gonna be tough. As we just keep saying that cliché, ‘one game at a time.’ We’ll see what happens.”
Despite the tough loss, the Redskins are ready to get after it as well and are looking forward to the new opportunity that the playoffs bring.
“It’s a new season,” said Clifton. “Everybody gets to start over. Everybody is 0-0. It’s do-or-die, so you better show and play, because everybody’s good. So we plan on showing up.”