Central Valley High School's varsity boys basketball team carried a great deal of momentum into its Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoff showdown with Weston Ranch.
The Hawks made program history by capturing their first conference title and ripping off 15 straight wins during the regular season.
Expecting to make a deep run in the playoffs, eighth-seeded Central Valley had its unbeaten streak snapped by the ninth-seeded Cougars.
Weston Ranch prevailed, 65-53, on Feb. 25 in Ceres.
"We were supposed to win the WAC," Hawks senior guard Jaron Dickson said. "The ultimate goal was to win a section title. We knew what we were up against. You got to bring your A-game in the playoffs and we didn't. The most difficult part is to know we could have played better."
Central Valley compiled a 22-4 overall record and finished first in the Western Athletic Conference standings (12-0).
The Cougars improved to 18-10 on the year and earned the right to face No. 1 Christians Brothers (22-6) in the quarterfinals. Weston Ranch placed third in the Valley Oak League (10-4).
"It's hard going out this way," Hawks head coach Darryl Dickson said. "I feel bad for the seniors. They put in so much time and had the goal of winning a section title. I knew Weston Ranch was going to be tough. They're a great offensive rebounding and transition team. They're battle-tested from playing in the VOL. They went up against Sierra, Manteca and Central Catholic."
Jaron Dickson made three treys and buried 7 of 12 free throws on his way totaling a game-high 22 points for Central Valley. He also grabbed 11 rebounds.
Parker Griffin and Daevon Brown contributed 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Devon Bolivar, Nimrat Chahal, Manuel Garcia and Larenz Johnson all scored two points.
Jaelen Ragsdale tallied a team-high 20 points for the Cougars.
Jazz Swanson and Tre Simmons chipped in with 15 and 13 points, respectively.
Weston Ranch shot 78 percent (18 of 23) from the free-throw line for the game. The Cougars converted 11 of 12 foul shots in the fourth quarter.
Central Valley played from behind most of the night.
The Hawks cut an 11-point deficit to 32-29 heading into intermission.
"It's a different feel," Brown said. "It's something we're not accustomed to. We couldn't get stops. We missed a lot of layups. We lost our composure. They're a scrappy team. They play with a lot of heart and hustle."
"When we caught up, the momentum switched," coach Dickson said. "I thought we had the edge. But it reversed itself. We battled. Our guys showed a lot of heart. We just didn't execute well at the end."
The Cougars outscored the Hawks 33-24 in the second half, including 17-6 in the final period.
Tied at 53-all midway through the fourth quarter, Weston Ranch seized control with a 12-0 run.
"I thought we'd play better than this," Jaron said. "I thought we'd advance."
Weston Ranch snapped Central Valley's program-best 15-game winning streak.
The Cougars also earned a small measure of revenge for fellow VOL member Sierra. The Hawks upset the Timberwolves 60-43 in the opening round of the Division-III postseason tournament last year. Central Valley lost 61-58 to No. 3 Fairfield in the quarterfinals.
"It's disappointing," coach Dickson said. "We didn't reach our ultimate goal. We won the WAC for the first time. That's something to be proud of. We had a great record. I'm really proud of the guys."
"We had a great season," Brown stated. "But we didn't plan on going out like that. It's frustrating. I'm still in shock we lost."
"It really hasn't hit me yet," Jaron Dickson added. "I thought we were going to go farther. That's just the way the world works sometimes. We gave it our all."