COAL CENTER – Head coach Phil Pergola has two words for anyone who thinks his California boys basketball team relies predominantly on seniors Tanner Huffman and Brian Fisher.
“Some people get upset that it’s like a two- or three-man team, but you know what? Those two or three men have put the hours in, they’ve put the time in,” Pergola said. “They deserve everything they get.”
On Wednesday, inside a packed gymnasium, it was quite a reward, as Huffman and Fisher combined for 53 points during a 76-72 win over rival Brownsville that virtually assured California of the Section 5-AA title.
“It felt so great to come out in front of that many people, on our home court, and play like that,” Fisher said.
After keeping it within one or two possessions for the first 20 minutes, California (11-0, 16-2) built a lead it wouldn’t relinquish with a 13-2 run to close the third quarter.
Huffman scored 31 points, 21 of them coming after halftime when the score was tied at 33. Fisher had 21 points and nine rebounds. Evan Patterson scored eight points to round out the three senior starters Pergola was talking about.
Four players reached double figures for Brownsville: Josh Mapstone had 17 points, Christian Floyd 16, and Nick Despot and Cole Novotney contributed 10 apiece.
With just three section games left – including two against West Greene and Beth-Center, teams the Trojans have beaten by 60 and 31 points, respectively – it’s now a mere formality for California to be crowned section champs.
“It looks like they’re going to win the section,” Brownsville coach Brian Brashear said. “They’re a great basketball team.”
California led, 60-48, following a Fisher free throw at 6:36 of the fourth quarter, but the Falcons (8-3, 13-5) cut that to one following a three-point play from Mapstone that made it 71-70 with 50.5 seconds to go.
Fisher answered with a three-point play of his own, and Huffman made two free throws to keep the Trojans in front.
“We quit attacking a bit,” Huffman said. “They did a great job, and we kind of held it together at the end.”
The teams were tied at 16 after one, with Floyd scoring 10 of the Falcons’ points. He finished with 14 rebounds but had only six points the rest of the way.
California held the lead for much of the second until Ryan Novotney’s baseline drive put the Falcons in front, 29-27, with 2:42 left to go before halftime. Jake Columbus answered for the Trojans, scoring on a tip to make it 33-all at the break.
Brownsville cobbled together a 44-41 lead midway through the third, but Patterson hit a floater, Demetri Clements sank two free throws and Huffman scored five quick points.
“We kept playing our game the whole time,” Fisher said. “We knew our shots were going to fall. In the third quarter we got some open looks, and we converted.”
Huffman and Fisher were mobbed by friends and teammates as they exited the locker room, rockstars for a night after thrilling a crowd Pergola called the biggest of his nine-year tenure here.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” Huffman said. “I’ve never seen so many people in this gym. You could just feel the adrenaline rushing through the place.”