By GERARDO RECINOS
As students stormed the court in jubilation after a first league win of 2016, the scene that presented itself was emblematic of everything the program could become in the following years.
The 55-50 win over Acalanes on Friday, Feb. 19, was a sigh of relief for the players and coach Anthony Ertola, both of whom will leave the Diablo Foothill Athletic League on a high note after a dismal season.
The gym was loud, packed, and more importantly there was student participation – something all good basketball programs have.
“It’s a testament to the hard work they (the senior class) have put in this season. It was probably the most complete game we played in the league,” Ertola said of the win and the overall atmosphere created in the Alhambra gym. “It was a culmination of all the lessons we learned this season. And I was really proud to be able to send those seniors off on a high note.”
From the beginning it would be the Bulldogs’ game to lose. The crowd hyped up the team and pushed them to a good start.
Josh Ramirez, who played his final game as a Bulldog, had the crowd chanting his name by the end of the first quarter. The senior nailed the first five shots from the field for Alhambra, nearly single-handedly giving his team the lead. The three-year varsity guard had 18 points on the night.
“It’s certainly nice when you have a guy that can just bail you out like that,” Ertola said. “The joke was Josh would make a great move, and we would say ‘that’s great coaching.’”
“That was all Josh though. That was Josh saying, ‘I am not going to let this team go out on a low note,’” Ertola said.
But it Ramirez’ dribbling ability that really sparked the crowd.
Rather than taking a heat-check 3-point attempt, Ramirez showed off the handles before dishing off to Tyler Peters, who finished easily.
Alhambra wouldn’t relinquish the lead for the rest of the half.
Suddenly all the things that plagued them this season didn’t phase them.
They shot the ball well, they had good team defense, and they didn’t get down on themselves any time Acalanes would make a solid run.
After jumping out to an 18-11 lead, Acalanes’ Aaron Hill matched 3-pointers with Zac Runyon.
The Dons started to heat up after a timeout with 5:22 was taken, and after a 3-pointer by senior guard Andrew McKendell, Ertola was forced to call timeout to make sure his team could see out the final two minutes with a lead intact.
Again it was Ramirez who sparked the Dogs.
Straight from the timeout, Ramirez dropped in another 3-pointer. His effort was followed up with an offensive rebound by Peters, who put his shot away and allowed Alhambra to go into the half up 29-23. The Bulldogs held Acalanes scoreless in the final two minutes of the half.
With Alhambra unable to keep up their hot-shooting start from the first half, Acalanes was able to capture their first lead when Hill converted the first of his two free throws. His 3-pointer on the previous Dons possession allowed Acalanes to tie the game for the first time since the first quarter.
Thomas McDonald knocked down a pair of free throws to give the lead back to Alhambra before the start of the final quarter of play.
With 4:15 left in the game, Alhambra had seen their lead disappear, and what was once victorious looking form slumped.
But as is customary in basketball, one shot reversed the fates of the two teams.
Straight from the time out Thomas McDonald knocked down a pair of shots, the second of which, a big 3-pointer, would be the difference in the game. In fact, the quarter ended with Alhambra outscoring 19-16.
Despite only shooting 58 percent from the free throw line in the final minute, Alhambra did just enough to hold on. Their defense was what saved them. They only allowed three points in the final two minutes of play.
“I had really good vibes when coming into the gym,” Ertola said, noting that he had a hard time finding a spot in the parking lot. “I felt the energy in the gym, in the locker room. There was something about the buzz in the room that we were going to put it together.”