Facing adversity for the better part of two months, the Cosumnes Oaks High School basketball team collectively embraces a challenge, and then pounces.
Needing to win every game down the stretch of the Delta Valley Conference just to secure a playoff berth after an ineligible player cost them 15 victories, the Wolfpack of Elk Grove inched in, and then stepped it up into an extra gear in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs, holding off St. Mary's of Stockton in a wild one on Friday and then topped that with an even more frantic 55-52 victory over Del Oro on Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena.
Cosumnes Oaks trailed big early, charged back in the middle quarters, and then held on late to halt Del Oro's 24-game winning streak in extending its own on-court streak to 28. The Wolfpack will play for their first title on Saturday night in facing top-seeded Folsom, winners of 18 consecutive games after beating Grant 63-62 in the other semifinal thriller.
The D-II playoff field, the best in many years, has played out with dramatic finishes. Do we hear one one? "We feel like a team of destiny," Cosumnes Oaks coach Patrick Roth said. "We're determined."
L.J. Reed played determined, as he generally does. The powerfully built Wolfpack junior forward had 21 points and 17 rebounds. He muscled inside for points and hit three-pointers, including one for the lead for good at 51-50 with 2:54 to go. Fellow football running mate Alex Van Dyke had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Eric Toles Jr. played a fine all around game, and he hit Van Dyke with an alley-oop with 1:47 to go for a 53-50 lead and Matt Muldavin calmly hit two free throws to account for the final points with 14.3 seconds to go. Muldavin hit a late three and some big free throws to beat St. Mary's on Friday in a quarterfinal.
When this one was over, the lights blinked nearly off due to a timer, and the Cosumnes Oaks student section - the CO Crazies - erupted. "The past six weeks have been a must-win for us," Roth said. "L.J. it seems like at one point in every game says, 'OK, guys, it's time to play CO basketball,' and we just transform."
Jaaron Stallworth had 10 points for Cosumnes Oaks. Danny Becker scored 15 for Del Oro, Connor Drake 12 and Jacob Tarabetz 10 for Del Oro, which still advances to the NorCal D-II tournament as a sudden major darkhorse.
Follow on Twitter: @SacBee_JoeD and on Facebook: sacbeepreps