Normally intensely focused on the court no matter the score, Scott Larson allowed himself to enjoy the moment, shuffling down his bench and high-fiving his players.
The Paso Robles High boys basketball coach finally could rest assured that the biggest win of his Bearcats’ season thus far was safely in hand.
After giving up a 21-10 run during the final four-and-a-half minutes of regulation Wednesday night, Paso Robles rallied in overtime for a roller-coaster 76-67 win over Arroyo Grande in Gil Asa Gym.
“If we can have an effort like that every game we play, I’m a happy coach,” Larson said.
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In overtime, Paso Robles forward Cheyne Hayes had four baskets on a variety of putbacks, layups and hook shots, and also got himself to the charity stripe, sinking 3 of 4 free throws after regulation.
“We worked so hard all game,” Hayes said. “To lose it on something like free throws or layups in overtime, it would’ve been a tragedy.”
It was the first PAC 7 loss of the season for the Eagles (17-4, 6-1 PAC 7), who entered ranked No. 4 in Division III-AA of the CIF-Southern Section.
“It’s a great morale-booster, knocking somebody off like that,” Hayes said.
Hayes finished with a game-high 31 points and six rebounds, while fellow senior Lonnie Watson had 24.
“I’m proud of him,” Watson said of Hayes. “He played his heart out. That was one of the best performances I’ve seen someone have.”
Junior forward Adam White added nine points and six rebounds for the Bearcats (12-8, 4-3 PAC 7), who, ironically, were coming off a loss to last-place Pioneer Valley on Monday.
“We just wanted to bounce back,” Watson said. “We played terrible against Pioneer Valley, and we wanted to show we can still contend in this league.”
Matt McAustin had a team-high 17 points for Arroyo Grande before fouling out, with Kyle Kleinsmith adding 15 and Derick Beasley 11.
Arroyo Grande was coming off an 81-74 victory over previously unbeaten-in-league Righetti, the fourth-ranked squad in Division II-A.
Point guard Michael Escobedo, who entered leading the Eagles with 15.1 points per game, was guarded by Watson for much of the night and finished with nine. He was held scoreless until the fourth.
“I’d like to particularly compliment Cheyne Hayes on his offensive effort, and Lonnie on his defensive effort,” Larson said. “Defensively, I thought (Watson) did a great job on Escobedo, who I think is a really terrific player.”
The Eagles, in search of their first league championship since 2001, had previously beaten Paso Robles, 58-49, on Jan. 4.
Paso Robles was 29 of 36 at the free-throw line, including an 11-of-14 performance by Hayes.
“Paso Robles played a terrific game tonight,” Arroyo Grande coach Ryan Glanville said. “They were quicker to the ball; they made all the hustle plays throughout the entire game and made their free throws.
“We didn’t have the energy we’re used to, but credit (the Bearcats) — they played a tremendous game and just really took it to us.
“You have to be ready to play every single night in this league,” Glanville said. “We’ve said from the get-go: Anybody can beat anybody.”
The teams traded baskets for much of the first half, with the Bearcats leading 17-16 after the first quarter but trailing 31-30 at halftime. A 3-pointer by McAustin with only seconds remaining in the third closed the gap to 45-38.
Although Paso Robles went up 54-43 midway through the fourth, the Eagles’ perimeter shooting came alive down the stretch, culminating in a 26-point quarter. A Kleinsmith putback just before the regulation buzzer sent the contest into overtime, deadlocked 64-64.
“We were really happy,” Larson said of the overtime. “We earned it. We deserve to feel good about it.“We need to maintain the approach we took to today’s game. We’re the underdog, scrapping and clawing.”