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Thrilling victory
Ceres High boys earn sweep of Central Valley
Ismael Ontiveros and Ceres High Schools varsity boys basketball team earned a hard-fought 62-59 win over Harinder Sidhu and Central Valley on Thursday. Ontiveros totaled 11 points. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Austin Stiles' thunderous dunk didn't count as it came after the buzzer sounded.

That didn't stop Ceres High varsity boys basketball fans from storming the court at Phil de la Porte Gymnasium.

The host Bulldogs squeaked past crosstown-rival Central Valley, 62-59, on Senior Night last Thursday.

"Everybody rushed me," said Stiles, who secured the victory with a steal in the waning seconds before electrifying the crowd with a one-handed jam. "I didn't know what to do. It was crazy."

Added Ceres High head coach Julio Marquez: "It was great seeing that because fan turnout hasn't been that great this season."

Ceres High (11-13, 7-4) earned the Western Athletic Conference's third and final playoff berth.

The Bulldogs eliminated the fourth-place Hawks (14-12, 6-5) from postseason contention.

Ceres High topped Central Valley twice this year, including 69-52 on Jan. 22.

"The kids enjoy the rivalry," Ceres High head coach Julio Marquez said.

The Hawks had a chance to send the second meeting between the two teams into overtime.

With 8 seconds left in regulation, Stiles stepped in front of a pass by Jaspreet Singh intended for Hawk teammate Harinder Sidhu. Ceres High's Ismael Ontiveros and Haaydn Martinez forced the turnover.

"Our kids got a good defensive stop to secure the win," Marquez said. "I knew it was going to be a bang-bang play."

Ceres High had a comfortable 53-42 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

The Hawks cut the deficit to two (61-59) on the strength of five 3-pointers, including three by Sidhu and one by Singh and Josh Sidhu.

Stiles accounted for Ceres High's final point by making one of two free throws.

"Give Central Valley credit," Marquez said. "They kept on swinging. They didn't give up. You could feel the momentum kind of starting to switch. It's always scary when you play a team that can shoot the 3."

"I just jumped the lane and went," Stiles said. "I thought I had a few seconds left and finished. It was a great game, really competitive. I had a blast."

Stiles scored 10 of his game-high 20 points in the final period.

Martinez added 14 points.

Ontiveros and sophomore Christian Garcia both tallied 11 points.

Marcellus Boykins and Trevor Nash had four and two points, respectively.

Harinder Sidhu totaled a game-high 20 points to lead the Hawks.

Jaspreet Singh, Oso Fregoso and Reuben Rodriguez added 14, six and five points, respectively.

Ralph Afortunado, Gurshan Chahal, David Serrano and Josh Sidhu all contributed three points.

Simeron Singh had two points.

Ceres High shot 59 percent (20 of 34) from the field, 29 percent (2 of 7) from 3-point range and 64 percent (16 of 25) from the free-throw line for the game.

Central Valley shot 53 percent (8 of 15) from the field, 24 percent (8 of 33) from 3-point range and 66 percent (19 of 29) from the foul line.

"We're playing some decent basketball right now," Marquez said. "We accomplished our main goal. We wanted to make it to playoffs."

Ceres High struggled mightily during the preseason. The Bulldogs collected just three victories.

Ceres High has won four of its last six conference games.

The Hawks dropped five of seven contests after beating their first four WAC opponents, including Patterson, Los Banos, Pacheco and Livingston.

"Winning is always fun," Stiles said. "Doing it twice against Central Valley is fantastic. It's a great feeling going to playoffs again."

Ceres High improved its all-time record versus Central Valley to 10-11. "It's going to motivate them for next year," Marquez said.