It looked and felt like the game was over.
Laguna Creek clung to a two-point lead with 22 seconds left, and was on the verge of upsetting the Davis High boys basketball team for a key win in the competitive Delta Valley Conference. All the Cardinals had to do was successfully inbound the ball, and make their free throws.
But Blue Devil senior Matt Michael made sure that wouldn’t happen. Looking like a ball-hawking safety, Michael jumped a passing lane and stole the inbounds pass.
The play led to Brandon Strong’s clutch 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to give DHS a 74-73 victory on Friday in front of a full house at the DHS gym.
“As the four, I’m supposed to kind of bait the passing lanes,” Michael told The Enterprise. “So when I saw the guy go up the court, I jumped on it, and luckily got the steal.”
As the waning seconds ticked off of the clock, the Devils (13-6, 2-1 DVC) remained cool for their final possession.
“I wanted the ball in Matt Michael’s hands,” said Davis head coach Dan Gonzalez. “He was either going to get a shot or find the open guy.”
Michael did the latter.
He whipped a pass to Strong, who caught the ball and immediately rose up for a 3-point shot. A Cardinals defender was in his face, heavily contesting the shot, but it didn’t matter.
Strong was 3-16 from the field and 1-10 from downtown before hitting the game-winner.
“Every time I came out my teammates kept telling me, ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting,’ ” Strong said. “They believed in me more than I believed in myself, and sometimes it just goes down. I had a terrible game up to that point. I took the shot and it went in. The rest is history, right?”
Local sophomore Ryan Kreidler iced the game with a steal as time expired.
Even though the Blue Devils were able to make key plays down the stretch to win, the game probably shouldn’t have been such a thriller in the first place.
By intermission, DHS had built a 46-41 lead, and looked to extend that in the third quarter.
But in a turn of events that can be familiar in the Devils’ system the locals instead went ice cold. Davis shot 2-18 from the field and scored only seven points in the third period.
“I talked about that during one of the timeouts,” Gonzalez said. “I said, ‘Hey, I never stopped believing that we’re going to make these shots.’ Everyone has bad quarters, it was a bad quarter for us, and we just came through in the end.
“They’re not going to give up,” Gonzalez added. “I know that, and we talked about it. Our pregame talk was about working, believing in each other, believing in The System and what we do.”
Michael and Strong both played key roles in getting the victory and not just with their clutch plays in the final minute.
Michael had a double-double, 17 points and 10 boards, while also recording four steals, two of which came in the last 1:30 of the game.
Strong didn’t stuff the stat sheet like his fellow senior, but scored eight of his 12 points in the final period, including the game-winner.
“Senior leadership … they are two of our captains,” Gonzalez said. “Brandon didn’t shoot well (Friday), but I kept believing in him. Matt has just gotten better and better from the beginning of the year.”
Notes: Senior Ben Crook was the only other Blue Devil in double figures as he scored 10 points, several of which came on acrobatic drives to the basket. … DHS will see Monterey Trail next as the two squads meet in Davis on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Like the Devils, the Mustangs are 2-1 in DVC play including a win over defending champion Grant last week. MTHS fell to Franklin, 71-66, on Friday. The Wildcats (2-1) defeated Davis by 20 points last Friday.
— Reach Thomas Oide at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterThomas