Arroyo Grande High point guard Matt Willkomm loves pressure situations.
So with 19 seconds left against Canyon and the score tied at 51 in a CIF-Southern Section Division 2A quarterfinal boys basketball game Friday, Willkomm was the perfect guy to take the last shot for the Eagles.
But the play didn’t exactly go as planned, and the Eagles had to make three passes to get the ball back to him with about three seconds left on the clock.
From behind the 3-point line, Willkomm found a crease in the defense and dribbled into an opening.
With space from about 15 feet on the right wing, he rose off his left foot and drained a buzzer-beater to send the raucous Arroyo Grande student fans into a frenzy and the Eagles onto the semifinals with a 53-51 win.
“When I first let it go, I thought it might be a little long,” Willkomm said. “When I saw it go in, I was just so excited. I was on my back (after falling) and everyone just piled on top of me.”
Willkomm finished with 15 points, five assists and five rebounds. He was complemented by power forward Andrew Midyett, who had 16 points, eight rebounds and drew four offensive fouls. Forward DeSean Scott added 12 points and six boards.
Arroyo Grande (22-8) finished fourth in the PAC 7 but is the last league team standing in playoffs.
“We’re definitely peaking at the right time,” Arroyo Grande coach Ryan Glanville said. “I think our rebounding in particular has really come along well and we crashed the boards hard tonight.”
Glanville praised Midyett in particular for attacking the offensive boards and noted that he has taken seven charges in the past two games combined on defense.
The 6-foot-4 junior said Friday’s game was his career high in points, but he didn’t even know how many he’d racked up moments after the contest.
“I had 16?” he said. “I didn’t think I had that many. I was just trying to hit the boards as hard as I could and to get putbacks. … As a team, we’re playing the best basketball we’ve played all season.”
Midyett and Scott, also 6-4, had a height advantage inside. And the Eagles, typically a guard-heavy team in scoring, were looking inside for passes into the post.
Right before half, Scott took advantage of some confusion over the shot clock buzzer going off for an easy layup to put Arroyo Grande ahead 28-27.
Several Comanches stopped, thinking the play was dead, but the Eagles had gained possession before the buzzer sounded and the layup was allowed.
Earlier in the game, the buzzer similarly went off, and the Eagles were the victims of believing the play was dead and were called for a double dribble.
“We talked about that in the huddle during a timeout,” Glanville said. “We told our guys to just play through if that happens again. It did, and we didn’t stop fortunately.”
Canyon (21-10) came into the contest the third-ranked team in the division in the postseason while the Eagles were the 11th-ranked team.
The Comanches were led by senior guard JoJo Ballestero, who averages 19 points per game, including 100 made 3-pointers on the season entering the game.
But the Eagles limited his touches, and he only had 11 points. Point guard Anthony Ballestero also scored 11.
Both guards penetrated the lane well enough to give open looks to forward Chandler Dignam, who had 16 points. But the Eagles were able to deflect some passes and create turnovers in key stretches of the game.
All year long, Willkomm, a senior point guard, has been the model of consistency for his team in the fourth quarter, hitting key shots to get his team back into games.
But in key PAC 7 games, Willkomm’s efforts often were thwarted by leads that were too big to overcome — including games against Righetti, St. Joseph and Atascadero.
On Friday, however, he got to write the script he wanted with a thriller in front of boisterous student fans who did the Harlem Shake at halftime and were ready to explode went the shot went through the net.
“It is one of the most exciting games I’ve ever played in,” Willkomm said. “I’m just so happy for my team. But I also give it up to Canyon. They played us tough and it was a battle.”
The Eagles are scheduled to play at Redondo Union (21-8) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the semifinals. Redondo Union is the division’s second seed and beat Glendora 55-41 on Friday.