While it was a typical game of late for the Pierce Bears, in which they started off slowly and rallied back in the second half, it was also a bittersweet one as their core of seniors played their final game as a unit last Thursday night. The Bears edged the Cosumnes Oaks Wolfpack 58-56 at home.
While the two teams were evenly matched, the Bears were somewhat out of sync early on, due in part to both the Wolfpack defense and the emotion experienced by the Pierce seniors, who were closing out their high school careers.
“The athleticism, length, and defensive discipline of Cosumnes Oaks really bothered us down low in the first half,” Coach Cody McCullough explained. “We were getting the ball into decent scoring positions but missing close shots. We were also a bit over-hyped and anxious knowing it was going to be our final game together, and that affected us negatively in the first half,” said McCullough.
As result, the Bears, despite initially controlling the boards, didn’t put their first points on the board until midway through the first period, when Luke Voorhees dropped in back-to-back buckets to get Pierce on track.
However, not to be outdone, Cosumnes hit a shot at the end of the quarter to take a 16-13 lead, then went on a 7-2 run to open the second period employing purposeful ball movement and tenacity on the boards, which enabled them to extend their advantage to 12 points.
In the final seconds before halftime, the Bears got the spark they needed when Christian Mata hit a shot and the ensuing free throw, to cut the lead to nine at 33-24.
The momentum would carry over after intermission. Despite allowing the Wolfpack multiple shot attempts, Pierce scored the first seven points in the third period and ramped up the defense, as well, something that McCullough was particularly pleased to see.
“Our defensive focus shifted in the second half and those stops led to a number of easy fast break buckets,” McCullough said. “We were able to dig deeper, and before we knew it, the halftime deficit was closed and we were tied at 35. It should also be noted that Luke did a phenomenal job as we committed him to containing their best scorer. His athletic ability coupled with his size has been an enormous benefit to the team defensively.”
Offensively, another late basket by Mata, in the final seconds of the quarter, gave the Bears a 42-40 lead going into the game’s final period.
But Cosumnes was not going to concede anything and surged back ahead, until a hustling Alex High pulled the Bears within two, with a layup in transition, and with just under four minutes remaining, ignited another rally.
With the game on the line, it was Justin Mathews, as he has done so often over the years, taking over, hitting two threes and a layup that allowed the Pierce seniors to go out on a winning note and drew praise from McCullough.
“There is something about that loud crowd, game-on-the-line energy that Mathews feeds off of and becomes unstoppable,” he said. “Ultimately, he scored our last eight points in one minute and 45 seconds and led us to victory.”
Mathews finished with a game-high 20 points, Voorhees added 12 points, Mata pitched in with 11, while Eduardo Paiz and High had eight and seven points, respectively.
In spite of the come-from-behind victory, there was poignancy to the sounding of the final horn – and the realization that with it came the end of one of the best teams to play in Colusa County in quite some time.
For McCullough, while the past two years haven’t always been smooth sailing, he is proud to have been a part of it, and feels that it will be instrumental in his evolution as a coach.
“Coaching this group of seniors has been an amazing experience and I am blessed to have had the opportunity,” he said. “Most would think it is easy when you have so many weapons, but that is far from true. It taught me that there are a lot more aspects about coaching than winning games. The growth I witnessed in these young men as basketball players and individuals makes all of the joys and pains of coaching worthwhile.”
Pierce, who also beat Anderson 48-36 earlier last week, finished the season 8-3.▪