The first coach to call Deonard Wilson when he landed the Grant High School boys basketball coaching job three years ago was his old buddy Derek Swafford.
They continue to call each other weekly, sharing stories of player achievement and team goals. Swafford, the veteran Sacramento High coach, initially told Wilson it would take three years of tireless work to build a program and reach the NBA building not far from Del Paso Heights that now goes by Sleep Train Arena.
But the master plan for Swafford didn't call for a Grant stunner at his expense.
Wednesday night, Swafford and Wilson embraced before and after a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal pitting programs that have played the sport since the 1930s. The upstart, fourth-seeded Pacers downed the top-seeded Dragons 72-69 in a thriller that included a frenetic pace down to the dueling drumlines that thundered in the arena and cool late foul shooting to ice it.
De'Sean Parsons, Grant's superb 6-foot-7 senior guard, had 26 points and took over down the stretch as he has so many times in this bounce-back Pacers season. His steal, dunk and free throw gave Grant a 66-62 lead with 1:23 to go. He made another steal and passed to Donovan Brown for a layup and a 68-62 lead with 1:08 left, and the upset was at hand.
Afterward, Grant principal Craig Murray led a charge of high-fives and hugs for scores of fans and students who have embraced the gritty, active Pacers. In the back tunnel, Wilson leaned against the wall, exhaled and composed himself.
"I'm so proud for this great school, our kids, the community, and I'm the happiest guy in the building," said Wilson, embracing 12-year-old son Jevon.
The Pacers (23-7) are now feeling a bit more greedy. Next is third-seeded and defending champion Antelope on Saturday at Sleep Train. Grant won its first section title in 1977 and its last in 1999.
"It's one thing to get here," Parsons said, "but now we want to win it."
Pacers baseball star Brandon Nunn had 12 points and Brown 10.
Joseph Barnes had 23 points, and James Hadnot scored 20 to lead Sacramento (23-7). The Dragons came in with five D-III titles in seven title-game appearances since 2005, and they still advance to the NorCal playoffs, as do all section semifinalists.
"My hat's off to Grant," Swafford said. "They haven't been here in a long, long time. I know what that feels like. I am really proud of Deonard and happy for him and his kids."
Antelope 55, Rocklin 47 Isaiah Ellis led four Titans in double figures with 14 points to go with 10 rebounds, and he keyed a late surge that held off the upset-minded, seventh-seeded Thunder, which cut it to six early in the fourth on a three-pointer by Hayden Cook (17 points).
Gabe Bealer, Ellis' bruise brother partner inside, had 13 points, Tyler Winston scored 11 and Rashard Thornhill 10 for Antelope (24-6). The fifth Titans starter, Isiah Quintero, had four points, four rebounds, four blocked shots and four hard fouls.
Rocklin (20-10) went from a four-win campaign last season to a NorCal team this season under first-year coach Casey Cutts.
Division I semifinals
Sheldon 86, Bethel 72 The top-seeded Huskies were for the most part flawless in offensive execution in taking leads of 11-0 and 17-2 before the Jaguars cut it to eight with two NBA-range three-pointers with 6:25 to go. Sheldon (24-5) responded with a 14-0 run and now targets a large-school section-record four-peat championship.
Fresh off a triple double against Kennedy, Huskies floor leader D'Erryl Williams scored 25 points on 12-of-13 shooting and had six assists and seven rebounds. Darin Johnson scored 22 on 9-of-13 shooting with five assists in front of his future coach at Washington, Lorenzo Romar.
Antonio Lewis had 15 points and Ryan Manning 14 for the Huskies, who made 37 of 59 shots (63 percent) and had 24 assists. Sheldon has had at least 20 assists in three straight playoff games.