Chico battled back several times Thursday from deep deficits to go into overtime against Santo. But the Bobcats proved too much, closing out the Dragons, 71-61.
Santo grabbed an early lead, and while Chico fought to even the score the Bobcats were able to consistently pull away.
Going into the fourth period, down by 18 points, a win against Santo seemed out of the question, but the Dragons shook up the game with an aggressive full-court press and forcing several key turnovers.
In overtime, the Bobcats reasserted their dominance, crushing Chico’s hopes.
Chico’s Dylan Hightower led both teams’ scorers with 21 points. Hunter Clarke scored 15, followed by Matt Carter with 10.
Santo led in the first period, 15-10. The Dragons were able to get back into the game; again Santo took the lead, jumping to 35-25 to end the half. Santo controlled the third period and increased their lead to 50-32, seemingly shutting down Chico.
Hightower scored 14 points in the fourth period to bring the Dragons back into the game.
“I wish it was more because it wasn’t enough,” Hightower said. “We started to shoot the ball and came together at the end. You got to want it more.”
With less than five minutes on the clock, Chico surged back into contention via a 13-0 run and by the end of the period had outscored the Bobcats 24-6.
Clarke scored the tying basket with a free throw and gave the Dragons a brief 1-point advantage until Bobcat Zamoris Cannon evened things up with a free throw of his own, 56-56.
Chico Coach Ken Thompson said Thursday night’s game showed a team is never out until the game is over.
“We were down 18 with five minutes to go, and we came back. You can’t ask for anything more than that,” Thompson said.
Chico is slated to play Meridian at Brock Tuesday night, making it the first time in more than a decade the Dragons have gotten past district play.
If they beat Meridian, it would be the first time in 15 years the Dragons have gotten past the opening round. That would make Thompson’s first year with Chico a standout.
“It’s real exciting. I didn’t really know any of that coming in here, I just knew that it had been a while,” Thompson said. “I knew we had a chance because these kids love the game of basketball. It’s been a lot of fun this season.”
Thomson said playing Meridian wouldn’t be much different than playing Santo, but his Dragons should be a little better prepared.
“These kids have never been to the playoffs. It was good for us to get that feel tonight, and we did have jitters for most of the game. Then we finally woke up.”
Sports Editor Clay Corbett also contributed to this report.