Maritza Hernandez overcame her nerves and sank three clutch free throws to lift the Atwater High girls basketball team to a 33-31 win over Golden Valley after a wild fourth quarter on Thursday night at Cougar Arena.
After scoring just 11 points in the first three quarters, the Cougars (12-12, 3-4 Central California Conference) erupted for 20 points in the fourth quarter to erase a 12-point deficit and take a 30-29 lead late in the game.
The Cougars did it without their leading scorer Camille Flores, who left the game late in the third quarter with a cut above her eye.
“This team showed me a lot in that fourth quarter,” Golden Valley coach Matt Thissen said. “Especially playing without our best player, who was at the emergency room getting stitches. They showed a lot of character and a lot of fight.”
The Cougars would have helped their playoff hopes if they could have converted at the free throw line. However, GV made just 11 of 35 free throws in the game, including 10 of 32 in second half.
“When you shoot 11 of 35 from the line you probably don’t deserve to win,” Thissen said. “But of 32 of those came in the second half. It was more of a rugby game out there than a basketball game. Unfortunately, we probably lost our best player for the rest of the season because of it.”
Hernandez helped the Falcons (13-11, 5-2) hold off the Cougars’ rally by scoring all five of her points in the final 1:29 of the game.
Hernandez scored on a layup to give Atwater a 29-28 lead only to see Jessica Lane answer for Golden Valley on the other end.
With the Falcons trailing 30-29, Hernandez was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer and sank all three free throws to give Atwater a 32-30 lead with 1:03 left.
“I had to make those free throws for my team and for myself to prove that we can still win it,” Hernandez said. “I was nervous but I had to get through it.”
The Thunder play tonight at home against Pitman at 7:15 p.m.