Even after watching the Calaveras Redskins turn an eight-point deficit into a five-point lead late in the fourth quarter of Friday night's cross-county hoops battle in Angels Camp, Christian Chamberlain said he had faith the Bret Harte Bullfrogs were still going to grind out the win for his late-cousins.
The 30-year-old Orange County resident was in town with family mourning the deaths of Bret Harte students Alex Marshall, 17, and Macaila Marshall, 14, who authorities say were gunned down last week by their father Philip Marshall, 54, before he killed himself.
Friday's thrilling and emotional 51-47 Bullfrog victory came as a ray of light in a week shrouded by darkness for Chamberlain and his family.
"I feel great right now," said Chamberlain after the game. "I knew at the end, even when they were down, I just knew they were going to win. It means so much. I just know that Alex was there watching."
The game capped off a night filled with tributes to the tragically slain students, including both longtime rivals running out from the locker rooms side-by-side in a show of solidarity before the game began.
But after the opening tip, it was back to the intense and aggressive rivalry on the court that fans have come to know and love.
The first score of the game came nearly three minutes in when Bret Harte junior Will Whited hit a jumper good for two points. The Bullfrogs turned up the intensity and quickly put together a nine-point lead to end the first quarter ahead 16-7.
Bret Harte head coach Jeff Eltringham was pleased to see his Bullfrogs come out so fired up, considering the emotional toll the past week's events have taken on the team, school and community-at-large, combined with the standing-room only, packed gymnasium that is a prominent feature of Bret Harte-Calaveras games.
"You honestly just don't know how the kids are going to react to all the emotion," Eltringham said. "They are just one of the most manly, tough teams I've ever been around. They just keep battling and don't worry about the score.
"It was all the kids tonight. It wasn't coaching, it was how they played with so much heart."
The Bullfrogs kept the Redskins at bay for much the second quarter as well, heading into the break leading 27-17. But a big third quarter in which Bret Harte was outscored 13-10 helped Calaveras close the gap heading into the rollercoaster final period.
Down eight points, the Redskins went on a 9-0 scoring run that had them take their first lead of the game, 39-38, after Redskin senior Mike Seawell was fouled going for a layup and sank both free throws.
On Bret Harte's next possession, point guard Brandon Kelly dished the ball to Will Whited inside the paint for a layup to reclaim the lead, 40-39, with roughly 4:45 left in the game.
Bret Harte gained another point off a free throw before Seawell answered with two of his own to tie the game followed by Redskin Wyatt Madrid's basket just 20 seconds later for the two-point lead, 43-41, with 3:52 on the clock.
"Sometimes we light up the scoreboard on each other and sometimes we both struggle to score like tonight, but it always seems to be close down the stretch," said Calaveras head coach Kraig Clifton.
On the next Calaveras possession, Madrid weaved through defenders and took the ball straight to the hoop for a layup. The next time the Redskins had the ball, Brian Golston came up with an offensive rebound and putback to give Calaveras its largest lead of the contest, 47-42.
Rodney Riner then sank two free throws for Bret Harte and on the next Bullfrog possession pulled down an offensive rebound, got the 2-point putback and drew the foul for the chance at a three-point play to tie the game 47-47 with 1:01 to play - and that's exactly what he did.
"Rodney Riner coming up with those huge rebounds at the end, those are just effort plays," said Eltringham. "You can't teach him to do that, that's just want."
"We do conditioning at the end of practices during the week and we always say, 'Fourth quarter ... ' " said Riner. "Our coaches have really pushed us a lot and we've become mentally-prepared enough to handle these types of situations. We all put forth more than 100 percent. I'm proud of these guys."
The Bullfrogs stopped Calaveras from scoring and got the ball back with 45 seconds left and put it in the hands of Whited, their leading scorer on the season, who drove to the hoop and picked up a foul.
When Whited stepped to the charity stripe and drained his two freebies for a 49-47 lead with 22.6 seconds left, the rowdy fans in the Bret Harte student section erupted with chants of "Spidey!" (after Alex Marshall's favorite superhero Spiderman) and "We Are Marshall!" in honor of their fallen peers.
With 7.8 seconds left, Whited got fouled and went to the line for two more free throws, which he nailed to seal the win.
Whited led the Bullfrogs with 27 points. He also went 12-for-16 from the free-throw line and pulled down a game-high seven rebounds.
And if it seemed like Whited was a man on a mission Friday night, it's because he was. Whited said he played baseball with Alex Marshall, also a junior, and wanted nothing more than to pick up the win in his friend's memory.
"This was for Alex and Macaila tonight," he said.
Clifton said the exciting finish came as no surprise to him.
"These rivalry games almost always seem to be that way and come down to the wire," he said. "All our bigs were in foul trouble most of the night, so Brian Golston played almost the entire time. He didn't play flawless, but he played extremely hard and that's all you can ask for.
"The loss wasn't for lack of effort. A couple times there might have been a lack of execution here and there, but sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way. I'm extremely proud of them all."
Golston said it was a tough game but he was proud of his team as well.
"Zack Johnson did a great job on defense for us tonight, and we had a lot of matchups we had never practiced because of foul trouble," he said. "I thought Devon Burton also stepped it up and Mikey Seawell always tries his hardest.
"It was a real team effort. I love my team. This season's been rough, but I'll stick with them to the end."
The Redskins (8-17, 4-10 Mother Lode League) won't journey through the postseason this year, but the defending MLL champ Bullfrogs (19-7, 11-3 MLL) are gearing up to finish their season at home against Linden on Tuesday. A win guarantees a home playoff game.
Eltringham said Friday's emotional battle will be something to build off heading into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section 2012-13 Division IV Championships.
"A crowd like that watching us play is probably something we'll see in the playoffs, so it's nice to get some experience with that and the kids responded well," he said. "It can either go really good or go haywire and I think the kids showed tonight they play well with all eyes on them."
Eltringham also took time to thank the coaches, players, faculty and members of the Calaveras Redskin community who reached out to Bret Harte and offered support through the difficult circumstances over the past week.
"Everyone over there has been so gracious and it shows how close the community really is even though we are rivals," he said.
McGinness leads Skins over Frogs
The Calaveras Redskin girls' basketball team used strong defense in the third quarter of Friday's Senior Night showdown in Angels Camp to come back from a three-point halftime deficit and win 52-46.
"We played a hard team and both Calaveras and Bret Harte were playing with a lot of heart," said Redskin senior Brianna McGinness. "It was a tough game with a lot of emotions going on but everyone played hard."
McGinness helped guide her Redskins to victory scoring a game-high 18 points and grabbing eight boards. Calaveras sophomore Samantha Johnson had 11 points and Taylor Martinez added 10 and also pulled down eight boards.
"Megan Walters in the second half really helped out with the boards becuase I had to move out to guard and that takes away from our rebounds," McGinness said. "Kelly Airola was a big help on the offensive side and so was Sam Johnson. Everyone really played their roles well tonight. Sam's definitely not considered a sophomore, she's playing her heart out. She shows what she's got and that's why she's on the court. She's definitely a talented girl and is going to go far."
Bret Harte battled through an emotional night with the recent deaths of two students, Alex Marshall, 17, and his sister, Macaila Marshall, 14, at the hands of their father, Philip Marshall, 54, in an apparent murder-suicide.
It also marked the final regular season game Bret Harte seniors would be playing in their home gym.
"There's definitely nothing better than having your Senior Night against Calaveras," said Bret Harte senior Haley Warner. "It just made it so much more special. We have all played together for so many years and knew we wanted the victory. It didn't end up that way, but we're still happy with what we did and made our Senior Night the best it could possibly be. We went out there and I thought we gave it all we had."
Warner scored eight points including a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter which sparked an 11-0 scoring run that saw Bret Harte come within two-points of the Redskins in the final two minutes.
Bret Harte's Kelsey Switzer led the scoring for the Bullfrogs with 11 points. She also led her team with four assists, five rebounds and eight steals.
"Kelsey Switzer always does good, you can always count on her," said Warner.
Switzer praised Jessie Evans' performance against the Redskins. Evans added nine points for the Bullfrogs, all from 3-pointers.
Bret Harte (15-10, 8-6 Mother Lode League) is seeking a postseason berth in the 2012-13 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Divison IV Championships. It faces Linden on-the-road Tuesday in a "win and in" situation, though a loss wouldn't necessarily rule the Bullfrogs out.
Meanwhile, Calaveras (19-6, 12-2 MLL) are looking to repeat the success of last year's historic season in which the Redskins clinched the Section title and advanced in the state playoffs. They face a tough test in Jackson on Tuesday against Argonaut, which is undefeated throughout the entire regular season.
A loss against the Mustangs most likely won't affect the Redskins ranking, which is currently seventh - good enough to host a game.
"Last year, we were in this position with Argonaut," explained Calaveras head coach Mike Lewis. "The first game was at Calaveras and we beat them easy, but the second game in Jackson we beat them by 10. The third game didn't mean anything, but they beat us at home and we were undefeated before that. I told the girls, 'Let's go pay them back for what they did last year.' "