It’s often said the craziest things can happen in rivalry games. That wasn’t just a cliché Friday night.
Crazy like coming back from a 13-point deficit only halfway through the first quarter to take the lead at the end of the third, only to see a game-winning 3-pointer swing the outcome back the other way in a one-point game.
That’s what transpired at a filled James Gym, as Arroyo Grande High defeated San Luis Obispo in a back-and-forth 52-51 thriller.
“There are certain high school basketball games that are just an awful lot of fun to be a part of,” Eagles coach Ryan Glanville said, “and I think that this is definitely one of those games.”
The Eagles (17-8, 7-3 PAC 7) got out to a 15-2 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the opening quarter, but the Tigers chipped away, and a Matt Moore 3-pointer 45 seconds before the end of the period pulled San Luis Obispo (11-12, 4-5 PAC 7) within 20-18.
Withstanding the rally, though, Arroyo Grande took a 27-21 lead into halftime.
The Tigers claimed their first lead with just two seconds remaining in the third quarter as Michael Hansen drilled a 3-pointer.
Hansen had another big shot soon afterward, banking in a turnaround jumper for a 42-39 advantage.
After the teams exchanged a few baskets, a Kelly Shepard putback put Arroyo Grande ahead 49-47. Four straight Hansen free throws put the Tigers up 51-49 with 1:45 to go.
Then, with 1:15 remaining, Ryan Echols sank a 3 that seized the lead back for good for Arroyo Grande.
“That’s a shot he’ll remember the rest of his life,” Glanville said.
Coming out of a timeout, a last-ditch driving shot by Hansen amid traffic in the lane missed, sending Eagles players into celebration and the Tigers’ side into dejection.
“That game could’ve went either way, easily,” Glanville said. “I’m very proud of our guys. It would’ve been easy to kind of fold. (San Luis Obispo) had all the momentum there at the end of the third quarter.”
Added Echols: “They’re a good team — once they get shooting, they’re on fire, and they’re really good shooters.”
Echols finished with 17 points — all but two of them coming on 3-pointers. Six-foot-5 power forward Brent Vanderveen effectively used his height advantage in the key to put up a game-best 18 points for Arroyo Grande, and Gunnar Gomez sank four 3s from his backcourt spot to finish with 12 points.
Hansen, a versatile inside-outside offensive threat, came in leading the Tigers with 16.7 points per game. The 6-4, 210-pound senior, who often finds himself guarding other teams’ centers, carried San Luis Obispo, pouring in a game-high 25 points.
“He’s just been terrific all year with the ball,” Tigers coach Jim Thompson said. “He’s been a real leader for us.”
As for coming back from the early 15-2 hole, Thompson said, “That’s kind of the way these guys have played, especially lately, down the stretch. We’ve really held tough, and when we do get down, we don’t seem to be out of it.
“We’re still hoping for the playoffs,” he added. “And I really think that we’re becoming a team that can play in the playoffs with that type of effort.”
Moore finished with 11 points for San Luis Obispo.
The Eagles stayed within striking distance of second-place Righetti (15-7, 7-2) for the league’s No. 2 playoff seed.
“It’s a huge game,” Echols said. “This game will help us get a better seed. That’s what we’re striving for.”
Because the Eagles’ football team advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Western Division championship game Dec. 10, one-third of their basketball roster was missing and unable to get up to speed for much of the early portion of the season.
“We’re really learning to play off each other,” Glanville said. “It has taken some time. I’m really excited about where we’re headed right now, because we’re starting to play well as a team, as a unit.”