If you were to suggest to Mark Hatton that he should relish the 2012-13 campaign as much as possible considering the rebuilding project he has on his hands for next season, don't waste your time.
The top priority for the Tulare Union coach is to keep the Redskins' hopes for a fifth straight East Yosemite League championship alive, and give his team a fighting chance once the Central Section Division I playoffs commence -- even if the Redskins are not playing their best basketball at the moment.
Tulare Union survived some serious bouts of sloppy play to fend off the Tulare Western Mustangs 59-49 Wednesday night at Sim Iness Gymnasium.
Tulare Union (17-5, 4-1) remains a game behind Mission Oak in the chase for the EYL crown. Tulare Union senior star Keonta Vernon had 26 points, 15 of those in the fourth quarter. Jonathon Parreira added 11 points, and Keith Mitchell had 10 points. All but four of the Redskins points were scored by seniors.
But Hatton is not concerned -- not at this exact moment.
"I've never been a next year-worry guy. We've got our entire focus on Monache for Friday. Coaches are kind of like deers, you only see past the headlights, nothing else," Hatton said. "We're just taking it one game at a time. I'll worry about next year, next year. We want the next Mission Oak game (Feb. 13) to mean something."
But is he relishing this season, knowing that next year could be a different story?
"If you asked me that question before the Independence game, I would have said this is the (most fun) season I've ever had. But we haven't had a lot of fun since last week, including the first half of this game," Hatton said. "The key for us is to play as hard as we can. If we do that, things we'll be great."
Tulare Western (5-15, 2-3) held a 29-26 lead at halftime. The Mustangs outscored Tulare Union 11-6 in the first quarter, and knocked down five 3-pointers in the first half.
"We did exactly what we wanted to do in the first half. We slowed the tempo down, and we were playing our game," Tulare Western coach Keith Rickard said. "(Tulare Union) hit some big shots in the third quarter, and it got away from us. We still have to learn how to win the big games. It's a learning curve. We'll get there. We still have a shot at the playoffs if we continue to improve."
If the Mustangs win three out of their last five EYL games, they will advance to the Division II playoffs. One of Tulare Western's previous league losses was a 49-46 decision to Monache.
Robin De Shazer had a team-high 12 points. Vince Caporale had 11 points, and Alec Denney finished with 10 points.