OAKLEY — After 31 minutes, 57 seconds of basketball, one rebound and one basket made the difference.
Freedom High’s Elliott Smith got his own rebound and hit a basket in the paint with three seconds to play to give the Falcons a 74-72 win over Rodriguez in the quarterfinals of the Northern California Regionals, Saturday night.
The Mustangs wrap a school-record season with a record of 27-4.
“We adjusted well (to their height),” Rodriguez coach Nate Rankin said. “We played well defensively today. That was the plan and our guys executed.”
The Mustangs, who led most of the game, held a 62-56 advantage with 4 minutes, 41 seconds to play, but Freedom wouldn’t give in.
The Falcons went on a 7-0 run to take a 63-62 lead and Rodriguez wouldn’t lead again, though the Mustangs tied the score three times down the stretch.
Armani Reed knotted the score at 68 with a three-point play at the 1:35 mark, Rishod Abraham made the score even at 70 with a bucket with 55 seconds to go and Tim Moore Jr. tied it at 72 with a pair of clutch free throws with 19 ticks to play.
After a timeout, Freedom’s Smith drove the length of the floor, missed his first shot then put in the game-winner.
“Despite us not taking a couple of charges, our guys played awesome,” Rankin said. “I am proud of them.”
The Mustangs started slow in the opening quarter, falling behind 9-0 before going on an 11-0 run to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until the 6:21 mark of the fourth quarter.
Kyle Williams, who finished with a team-high 23 points, had seven points in the run, including a 3-pointer and a three-point play.
Freedom stopped the bleeding for a moment, but the Mustangs went on a 7-1 run to grab an 18-12 lead after the first eight minutes.
The Falcons battled back in the second period, getting within 22-20 with 4:47 to go in the half, but Rodriguez responded with an 11-2 scoring streak to up its lead to 33-22.
The teams basically traded baskets and free throws the rest of the half, with the Mustangs taking a 40-30 lead into the locker room.
Freedom got two quick baskets to open the third quarter, but two free throws by Moore Jr., a three-point play by Williams and a 3-pointer from Courtlund Mclean gave Rodriguez its biggest lead at 48-35 with 5:17 to play in the third.
The Falcons came alive to end the quarter, outscoring the Mustangs 14-5 to cut the lead to 53-49 heading into the final period.
Abraham finished with 13 points for the Mustangs, while Moore Jr. and Reed had 11. Mclean ended up with nine. Moore also chipped in eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Freedom’s Smith scored a game-high 26 point and added 16 rebounds, while Rodney Pope scored 17 points for the Falcons. Kendall McIntosh added 12 points and 11 rebounds for Freedom.
Even though the Mustangs’ record-setting year is over, Rankin couldn’t be more proud of his team.
“This team didn’t make any excuses at all,” the coach said. “They were a good team, but we’re a good team, too. They have character.
“I want to say this about my team, this season was really indicative of teamwork. The players bought into it. The coaching staff has been great, even the administrators and parents. Everybody bought in to a successful season. I’m so proud of these guys.”
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.