FAIRFIELD — The thrill ride that was the Rodriguez High boys basketball team’s postseason opener was too thrilling for the weak of heart.
The Mustangs fell behind by 10 in the second quarter, rallied to trail by two at the half, bolted to a 17-point lead late in the third period and held on for a 70-65 win over Tokay of Lodi in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs, Wednesday.
The second-seeded Mustangs (24-2) advance to host No. 7 Golden Valley of Merced (22-6), a 64-47 first-round winner over Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills, in Friday night’s quarterfinals.
“We’ll take the win and I’m happy for the guys,” Rodriguez coach Nate Rankin said. “They fought back in the second period. When they came out they didn’t execute offensively, didn’t execute their style of play.”
Tokay (13-15) played like anything but a 15th seed, using a 14-2 run in the first quarter to go up 14-6 after the Mustangs had scored the game’s first four points.
The Tigers led 20-13 after shooting 62 percent (8 for 15) in the first 8 minutes and enjoyed their biggest advantage at 24-14 after a Nico Brusa layup 90 seconds into the second quarter.
Then the Mustangs came to life, making five steals in eight Tokay possessions and going on a 15-5 run to tie at 29-29 on an Armani Reed driving layup with 36 seconds to go in the half.
Kyle Rivers sank a short jumper off an inbounds pass to put Tokay 31-29 with 12 seconds to go before the break, the Tigers’ last lead of the game.
Newly-crowned Monticello Empire League Player of the Year Rishod Abraham tied the game with two free throws – after making a steal – 25 seconds into the second half and Courtlund Mclean put the Mustangs up for good 13 seconds later on a layup – following another steal.
The trend continued as Rodriguez had nearly twice as many steals in the third quarter (nine) as Tokay had baskets (five).
Never has 83 percent shooting meant so little as the Tigers managed just six shots, turned the ball over 13 times and were outrebounded 9-0 while being outscored 28-12 in the third quarter.
“They fought back hard and showed character,” Rankin said of his players.
Mclean had nine of his 13 points, Abraham eight of his 16 and Kyle Williams seven of his 16 in the third quarter as the Mustangs took their biggest lead on an Abraham dunk with 37 seconds to go – off yet another steal – at 57-40.
However, while Abraham was celebrating, the Tigers hurried the ball upcourt and got it to a wide open T.J. Gotelli, who buried a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 57-43 after three periods.
Gotelli’s trey started a trend as the Tigers turned up the heat, hitting their first three shots of the fourth quarter and seven of their first nine, going on a 17-8 run to cut the lead to 65-60 with 4:03 left in the game.
Reed momentarily stopped the bleeding with a putback, but two Isaiah King free throws and a basket by Kashif Afzal made it 67-64 with 2 minutes remaining.
The wheels could’ve totally come off for the reeling Mustangs when the Tigers made a steal and Abraham was called for a technical after Gotelli went to the floor with great gusto immediately after a timeout was called.
However, Gotelli hit just one of the two free throws and moments later Davis Nakashima was called for traveling.
Both teams missed several shots before Williams, who finished with 13 points, iced the game by muscling in a putback with 11 seconds left and hitting the ensuing free throw, drawing Afzal’s fifth foul in the process.
That sent the large crowd into a frenzy as the home team went home a winner.
“Thank God for home-court advantage,” Rankin said.
Brusa led Tokay with 16 points, while Gotelli had 12, King 11, all in the fourth quarter, and Afzal 10.
The victory snapped a three-game postseason losing streak for Rodriguez, its last win coming on the road at Golden Valley in 2011.
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.