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Mt. Whitney advances to Central Section Division III semifinals with buzzer-beater 3


12:00 AM, Feb. 23, 2013 EST

Mt. Whitney's Turner Nelson goes for a layup during Friday's Central Section Division III playoff game against Dinuba. Mt. Whitney won 48-46. / Michael Alvarez

Bob Aguilar has experienced more than his fair share of heart-breaking playoff losses in recent seasons.

The Mt. Whitney head coach saw his Pioneer team lose on a buzzer-beater to Hoover in a double-overtime semifinal in 2010.

And he had to endure a gut-wrenching defeat in last year's Division III title game when Ridgeview made a 35-footer at the buzzer for a 43-40 win.

So, it's completely understandable that Aguilar needed to take a seat after Friday's emotional roller-coaster victory that saw his favored team go from the brink of a disappointing elimination to a crowd-spilling jubilation thanks to the game-winning, last-second heroics of Mt. Whitney senior Garabed Kalanjian.

Kalanjian nailed a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left to lift No. 3 Mt. Whitney to a 48-46 win over the No. 6 Dinuba Emperors in a Division III quarterfinal game Friday at Mt. Whitney High School.

"Oh man, this is too much," Aguilar said. "We've been on the other end of these types of games, but by the grace of God, we were able to get it done tonight. Oh man, that was something."

Mt. Whitney will visit No. 2 Mission Oak (26-3) in Wednesday's semifinal round. Game time is 7 p.m. in Tulare. The Hawks and Pioneers met Dec. 10 at Mission Oak with the Hawks winning a 76-73 decision.

"In three out of the last four years, we've been at this point [in the playoffs]. No one expected us to be here this year. It's a credit to my staff, and these players. Our goal was to get back to Selland Arena and we're one game away from that happening. I can't give enough credit to this entire team," Aguilar said.

While the Pioneers and their fans justifiably celebrated Friday's victory by rushing Kalanjian at midcourt, it appeared the last thing the Pioneers would need at halftime would be a dramatic finish to pull out the win.

Mt. Whitney held a somewhat comfortable 31-17 halftime lead. Somewhat comfortable in the fact the Pioneers were dominating the game defensively. Dinuba had 17 turnovers at halftime, and after knocking down its first three shots to open the game, went just 5-of-23 from the floor for the rest of the first half.

Both teams suffered through shooting slumps in the third quarter, but the Emperors did a little more damage with their successful shots and cut the Pioneer lead to 37-30 by the end of the period.

"What a great job by [Dinuba coach] Jeff Schofield," Aguilar said. "The game was close to getting away from them, but they rose to the challenge. Dinuba just kept grinding. They really outplayed us in the second half."

At the 7:29 mark of the fourth quarter, Mt. Whitney was up 40-32. But in a little over four minutes, Dinuba got to within one of the Pioneers -- 40-39 with 3:18 left in regulation.

Mt. Whitney managed to hold the lead until Ernesto Ruiz put Dinuba in front for the first time since early in the first quarter with his fourth field goal of the fourth quarter at the 28-second mark.

Ruiz's shot translated into a 46-45 lead for the Emperors.

Aguilar quickly called timeout to go over what the Pioneers needed to do on possibly the last possession of the game.

"We wanted to try to get the shot off with 10 to 12 seconds left, so that in case we missed, we would try to get the rebound for another shot," Aguilar said.

The focal point of the strategy session was to find ways to get the ball to Dannon Frigulti. Frigulti had accounted for all of the Pioneers' eight fourth-quarter points at that point.

And if Frigulti couldn't get clear, get the ball to Ethan Moore, who scored most of his eight points by driving to the basket.

Dinuba's defense denied both options.

Frigulti had no chance for a quality shot, and the Emperors did a fine job cutting down any possible cutting lanes for Moore.

And to make matters worse, the clock was ticking down to less than five seconds.

Enter Kalanjian.

Kalanjian got a good look from beyond the 3-point arc, and calmly rifled a perfect shot that hit nothing but net.

"That's the first time that's ever happened to me. I was nervous," Kalanjian said. "Oh my God, I can't believe it. Even after a few minutes, I still can't believe it."

Dinuba's desperation heave at the buzzer was well short of its target.

Aguilar couldn't have picked a better hero for the Pioneers.

"Last year in the Valley championship game on that game-winning shot [by Ridgeview], it was the player [Kalanjian] was guarding. He had gotten away from [Kalanjian]. So I was so glad to see Garabed knock down that shot. I couldn't be happier for him," Aguilar said. "He's a big reason why we're at this point."

Ruiz had a game-high 18 points for Dinuba (22-7).

No. 2 Mission Oak 90, No. 7 Roosevelt 73: The Hawks advanced to the semifinals with a win over the Rough Riders at Mission Oak High School. This marks the second time in three seasons that Mission Oak has made it to this point in the Division III playoffs, and it only has been a varsity program for four seasons.

Mission Oak junior guard Blake Shannon scored 28 points to lead the Hawks (26-3).

 

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Rank School Record
1 Mission Oak High School
Tulare, CA
13-3-0
2 El Diamante HS
Visalia, CA
13-6-0
3 Mt. Whitney High School
Visalia, CA
12-7-0
4 Redwood High School
Visalia, CA
10-10-0
5 Central Valley Christian School
Visalia, CA
9-9-0

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