FAIRFIELD — A loss meant a share of the title.
The home team was selfish.
It was Senior Night and the last Monticello Empire League game of the season as the Rodriguez High boys basketball team slipped past Vacaville 56-53, Tuesday.
The win gave the Mustangs (23-2, 9-1 MEL) an outright MEL championship.
“I’m happy for the kids,” Rodriguez coach Nate Rankin said. “I’m excited for them. This is huge because the kids earned this one. No one gave them anything.
“The win is good for the program. The kids can say they won two league titles. But this year, they were selfish. The kids earned it.”
The Mustangs did indeed earn the victory as the outcome wasn’t for sure until the final buzzer.
With 18 seconds to play, Vacaville’s RJ Louis hit a pull-up 3-pointer, cutting the lead to 56-53.
The Mustangs missed a close shot on their ensuing possession. Vacaville grabbed the rebound, crossed half court and called a time out with 3 seconds left.
On the inbound pass, the Bulldogs threw it across court and dumped it to a player waiting in the corner behind the arc. The shot hit the side of the backboard and the buzzer sounded – giving Rodriguez its sixth outright league title and the seventh in the last eight seasons.
“Vacaville is always tough to play. It could’ve gone either way,” Rankin said. “If the shot didn’t hit the backboard, I thought it was going in.”
Within the first four minutes of the opening quarter, there were three ties and three lead changes.
“We had to switch back and forth with an extended zone,” Rankin said. “That helped us stay in the game (early).”
The Mustangs went back and forth with the Bulldogs over the first eight minutes and trailed 16-14 at the period’s end.
On Rodriguez’ first possession of the second quarter, it grabbed the lead from an Armani Reed 3-pointer. Reed had 12 points in the first half and ended with a team-high 17.
Vacaville (16-10, 7-3 MEL) tied the game in the later in the quarter with a pair of Chance Pippin free throws – taking the lead (22-20) on the next possession with a short baseline jumper from Louis.
After a Rodriguez timeout after a made basket by the Bulldogs, the home team went on a 14-2 run to close the quarter, grabbing a 34-24 lead at the break. Senior Tim Moore Jr. had seven points in the run.
The Vacaville momentum swung early as Pippin hit a 3-pointer to start the final quarter. Just two possessions later, Louis would convert on a four-point play – making the score 46-42 with 6:05 left.
Rodriguez tried to grab some momentum back with a three-point play, but was just 2 of 8 from the floor the rest of the way.
The JV team for Rodriguez found similar success as they defeated Vacaville 59-54. Jarod Robinson led the Bulldogs with 13 points, while Roebi Balancio led the Mustangs with 20.