All Troy Norris had to do was get back in the game.
Norris, the dynamic point guard for the Atascadero High boys basketball team, had led the Greyhounds to a 30-24 lead midway through the third quarter Friday night against arch-rival Paso Robles.
But with just more than three minutes remaining in the period, Norris picked up his fourth foul and had to head to the bench. Without Norris on the floor, the Bearcats battled back, opening the fourth on an 8-0 run to go up 42-36 with just under six minutes remaining. That’s when Norris came back in.
After re-entering with 4:38 remaining, the 5-foot-10 junior tied the score at 42 with a clutch 3-pointer a minute-and-a-half later.
With only 1:15 left, he stole a Paso Robles pass in the backcourt and jetted away for a coast-to-coast layup to put Atascadero up 46-44.
After a Paso Robles turnover, he then hit four free throws late to ice a 50-44 Greyhounds win at Ewing Gym that left Atascadero (16-7, 6-4) alone in third place in the topsy-turvy PAC 7 race.
“I left him on the floor one possession too many,” Greyhounds coach Jerry Tamelier said of Norris’ foul trouble. “But luckily, he finished the game and made the free throws and key shots down the stretch.”
Norris finished with 15 points.
“It was very frustrating,” Norris said of having to sit.
Another young Greyhounds guard made matters less frustrating for Atascadero, though.
Sophomore shooting guard Hayden Mislavsky made a crucial basket with a minute-and-a-half to go that tied the score at 44.
“I think his shot was the biggest shot of game,” Norris said. “It gave us momentum.”
Mislavsky finished with a team-best 18 points.
“His play tonight was the difference,” Tamelier said. “For a sophomore, he shows an awful lot of maturity for a varsity basketball player.”
The Bearcats opened the game on a 12-2 tear, but with 2:22 left in the opening quarter, Paso Robles forward Cheyne Hayes — the Bearcats’ second-leading scorer — suffered a bleeding cut under his eye and had to leave the game. He didn’t return until three minutes before halftime.
By then, Atascadero — ranked No. 11 in Division IV-AA of the CIF-Southern Section — had rattled off a 13-0 run.
“In the first quarter, we weren’t moving; we were just standing,” Tamelier said. “We have a tendency to bunch up and stand, and we’re just too easy to defend. As the game went on, we got more ball and player movement, and consequently got better shots.”
The Greyhounds led 23-18 at the break.
“That definitely hurt us, not having him back in there,” Paso Robles coach Scott Larson said of Hayes. “He’s a really consistent scorer for us, and not having him for a quarter really hurt us.”
Lonnie Watson, who entered leading the league at 19 points per game from his shooting guard spot, had 16, while Hayes posted a team-high 18.
“It was like four different games,” Larson said of the back-and-forth surges. “The first quarter was outstanding. The second quarter was poor. The third quarter was better, and the fourth was pretty good until the last part of the game. We gave it away, I thought. We turned the ball over a few times, and it cost us dearly.”
Matt O’Connell added 10 points for Atascadero.
“We’re coming in pretty confident,” Norris said of the Greyhounds’ remaining slate of games.
Norris entered averaging team bests of 16.1 points and 2.6 assists per game while leading the PAC 7 with 2.7 steals per contest.
“You’ve got to watch him all the time,” Larson said of Norris. “He’s constantly stealing balls and getting offensive rebounds. He’s one of the best players in the league.”
The Greyhounds, who also got strong defensive contributions from wing Sam McMillan, were coming off a key 63-62 Wednesday win over co-league leader Righetti, the fifth-ranked squad in Division II-A.
“We feel like if we win the rest of our games, maybe we can have a home game (for the postseason),” Mislavsky said. “That’d be good to have all our people here.”
Paso Robles (12-10, 4-5), meanwhile, handed Arroyo Grande, the sixth-ranked team in Division III-AA, its first league defeat in late January, 76-67. But the Bearcats’ 46-39 loss to last-place Pioneer Valley may come back to haunt them.
“We’re behind the 8-ball because we lost to Pioneer Valley and no one else has that’s fighting for third,” Larson said.