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Center too much for Del Oro

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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LOOMIS — The Center High boys basketball has size, speed and a large chip on its shoulder as the No. 6 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The Cougars blitzed Del Oro in the second half and held off a late rally to beat the Golden Eagles 79-73 and advance to the Division III semifinals. The Golden Eagles, who were seeking a third straight trip to the semifinals, saw their season come to an end Friday night. Center senior Elliot Herald was a terror in the open court and senior Connor Haysbert dominated in the post as the Cougars took over in the fourth quarter. Del Oro, the No. 3 seed, fought back with the sharp shooting of senior Nick Lewis and junior Aaron Hendricks, but came up a few shots short. “We felt like we were there and if we get a couple shots to go down, maybe it’s a different outcome,” Del Oro coach Geoff Broyles said. “Our kids battled. They’re a very athletic team, a very long team and they create some problems, but I thought our kids battled incredibly hard. We were able to score the basketball. It was difficult stopping them.” Herald finished with 24 points, including a series of breakaway buckets on long rebounds. Meanwhile Haysbert scored 20, operating primarily in the low post. Senior Spencer Butterfield was tremendous in his final game at Del Oro. He finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, but the Cougars limited him to just one field goal and four points in the second half. “We had to switch people off on him in the first half because he was hitting every shot,” Center coach Ray Gagnon said. “Our kids were doing all they could, but he was hitting everything. At halftime, I said, ‘Let’s not panic. If they keep hitting their 3s in the second half, they’re going to win.’ But they stopped hitting their shots until the end when they made it close.” The Eagles trailed by as many as seven in the fourth quarter before Hendricks nearly brought the Eagles back with a gutsy effort. He played with the flu and scored 18, including a 3-pointer from 25 feet to slice a six-point deficit in half with 1 minute, 22 seconds left. “Hendricks… what a warrior,” Gagnon said. “He had the flu and you could see his face, he was pale. He played like a warrior.” Lewis hit his fifth trey of the game with 49 seconds left to bring Del Oro within two, but the Eagles could not get another shot to fall. Center senior Andres Martinez buried two free throws in the final minute to seal the win. Del Oro played nearly flawless in the second quarter to take a 40-34 lead into halftime. They held onto the lead until the final moments of the third, when Herald finished on a fast break to give the Cougars the lead and valuable momentum heading into the final frame. Center (26-2) is using its No. 6 seed as motivation on its quest for a section championship. “One of the main things we talk about is that we’re the sixth seed and we want to prove that we’re better than that,” said Haysbert, whose junior brother Chad added eight points and four steals Friday. “We have a lot to prove in the playoffs right now.”