FAIRFIELD — Despite playing poorly early and in the late going, the Rodriguez High boys basketball team appeared ready to make it 20 straight wins.
Will C. Wood had other ideas.
Arthur Jackson sank the first of two free throws with 1 second left after being fouled following teammate Darius Washington’s steal to lift the Wildcats to a 60-59 Monticello Empire League victory, Tuesday.
The loss snapped a school-record 19-game winning streak for the Mustangs (21-2, 7-1 MEL) and dropped them into a tie for first place with Vacaville.
“We’d trade all that for the win, we’d trade all that to go 8-0 in league,” Rodriguez coach Nate Rankin said.
The Mustangs were poised to do just that, taking a 52-45 lead after Tim Moore’s putback with 6 minutes, 5 seconds left despite trailing by as many as 11 in the second quarter.
Rodriguez was up 57-52 following an Armani Reed putback with 2:40 remaining before the visitors started their comeback.
A basket by Jackson and two by Roddrick Douglas gave the Wildcats (11-14, 5-3 MEL) the lead and a Khalid Harrison free throw made it 59-57 with 37 seconds remaining.
Rodriguez, which enjoyed a 12-6 rebounding edge in the final quarter, tied it on a Moore putback with 19 seconds left.
Kyle Williams then forced a turnover and Rankin called a timeout with 5 seconds to go in hopes of setting up the game-winning shot.
It never happened.
Kesean Graham looked to inbound at midcourt to Rishod Abraham, who led the Mustangs with 24 points, but Washington got a hand on the pass.
Jackson grabbed the loose ball and raced toward the Wood basket where he was fouled by Abraham.
“I had to hustle down and lay it in (or) get fouled,” Jackson said.
As for his thoughts on the line, the sophomore guard said, “I’m thinking, the place is getting loud. I better hit the shot before my teammates hate me.”
Jackson did that, setting off a celebration among the Wood faithful.
Early on, it looked as if the Wildcats wouldn’t need such late heroics. They led 18-10 after the first quarter and upped their advantage to 25-14 after two Will Sanders’ free throws with 5:42 to go in the half.
Then the Mustangs, led by Rishod, came alive. The senior wing scored nine points in an 11-2 run that cut the deficit to 27-25 and the home team trailed just 33-30 at the half.
Eleven Wood turnovers also helped fuel the surge.
Rodriguez took its first lead since 2-0 at 34-33 after two Abraham free throws. Four lead changes and two ties later, the Mustangs took a 45-43 lead into the fourth quarter after Abraham was fouled attempting a 3-pointer and hit all three charity tosses.
After Wood tied it at 45-45 18 seconds into the fourth quarter, Rodriguez scored seven straight points and appeared to have the game in hand.
“We came through at the end,” Wood coach Mark Wudel said. “We played defense and stopped (turning it over). We got the steal at the end. (Jackson) took it to the basket and got fouled.”
Washington led a balanced Wood attack with 12 points, while Cameron Moore had 11, Sanders 10, Jackson nine and Alex Stepney eight.
After Abraham, Reed was next for the Mustangs with 12.
Rodriguez won the JV game 62-28 behind 24 points from Roebi Balancio and eight from Jemaurri Bailey.
The Mustangs are at Armijo, Thursday, before hosting Vacaville in the regular season finale on Feb. 18.
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.