It almost looked like Freedom would send it into overtime. At the final buzzer, Falcon phenom Andrew Garner hurled a 75-foot Hail Mary bomb that threatened to go viral on YouTube as it headed for the hoop. But it slammed off the backboard to the right of the iron, to the groans of the Falcon faithful and cheers of Patriots fans, ending the game.
“It was a great high school basketball game,” said Heritage Coach Pat Cruickshank. “It’s a shame that somebody’s got to lose that thing. Both teams battled from the very tip-off to the very end. Heck, I thought Garner’s shot was going in at the end of the game. Hats off to both teams. It was great. These people here, I’m sure they enjoyed it. It was a great game.”
Heritage jumped out to a six-point advantage at the end of a back-and-forth first quarter on the strength of shooting by Sean Packard and Kevin Harrity. The Patriots were up by eight midway through the second quarter when Freedom’s Jeff Matteri hit a three-pointer that launched the Falcons on a 20-6 run over the next 10 minutes, resulting in a seven-point Freedom lead at the end of the third period.
But with the money on the line in the fourth quarter, the Patriots rose to the occasion, holding the Falcons to just nine points while scoring 19 for the 60-57 victory. The key was shutting down Garner, who had scored 18 points in the first three quarters. The 6-foot-3-inch junior forward failed to score in the final frame until the final 10 seconds, driving the length of the court for a layup that brought the Falcons within three.
Asked how his team was able to shut down Freedom, Cruickshank said, “I think we mixed in a couple of defenses on them. But I think, you know, it just came from our heart. Our kids played hard. They wanted to get stops. That was the thing we talked about in our timeouts: ‘Hey, let’s step up. Who’s going to rotate the open guy? Who’s going to get a stop? Who’s going to get a hand in somebody’s face?’ They stepped up and played great.”
Harrity led all scorers with 23 points and Garner finished with 20. Freedom’s Darrell Greene scored 15 points while hauling down 12 rebounds. Packard notched 14 points.
Asked about another narrow margin of victory over Freedom, Cruickshank said, “It won’t be any different the next time, either. It’s going to be a great game and probably will come right down to the wire. Whoever gets the breaks that night and plays harder is going to be the winner.” That game will take place next Friday, Feb. 5 at Heritage.
In the meantime, the Patriots beat Deer Valley 62-44 on Friday. And they played Pittsburg Tuesday, the results of which were not available at press time. Friday, Jan. 29, the Patriots take the court at Liberty – one of the biggest rivalries in East County sports – and on Tuesday travel to Antioch. Freedom lost to Pittsburg 72-70 Friday. The Falcons took on Liberty Tuesday, host Antioch Friday and host Deer Valley on Tuesday. All game times are 7 p.m.