In what might be the fastest opening basket in Vintage High boys basketball history, Imani Lopez stole Vallejo’s opening back-tap, took two dribbles, and brought the crowd to its feet with an emphatic two-handed slam just five seconds into Wednesday night’s game.
The rest of the game wasn’t so easy for the home-standing Crushers, but they made it four straight wins with a 50-42 victory over the Red Hawks thanks to an exciting fourth-quarter rally.
“That’s a quality win for us,” said Vintage head coach Rob Johnson. “They’re a tough team.”
Jared Rendon and Lopez each had 11 points to lead the Crushers (4-2), who hadn’t played since defeating Pioneer on Dec. 5.
“After a week off, we were definitely a little rusty,” Rendon said.
Vallejo (6-4), meanwhile, had played five games, losing only one, since falling 57-50 to Vintage in the fifth-place game of the Wine Valley Tournament on Dec. 2.
“We haven’t done a lot of practicing because of finals, but despite that we did a great job of finding the open man and then battling through for the win,” Johnson said. “We saw a different Vallejo team tonight, and they were ready for everything we threw at them.
“It feels good to have a four-game win streak. Winning always feels good. I keep telling these guys, ‘See? You can do this.’”
After Lopez’s opening slam, Damian Alfaro scored inside on an out-of-bounds play and it looked like Vintage was rolling. But Vallejo canned three long shots to take an 8-5 lead and the teams went back and forth virtually the rest of the way, before Vintage put the game away late in the fourth.
The Crushers’ big front line controlled the paint and Vallejo did not score inside of 15 feet the entire fourth quarter, often getting limited to one shot per possession.
Vintage was uncharacteristically cold from 3-point range and in fact did not make a three until Rendon’s timely trey with 2:15 to play in the game.
“That’s not like us,” Rendon noted, “but we got the win.”
“Jared is always solid for us. We can always count on him to do everything,” said Johnson. “I look to him to lead this team and make the right decision. He did everything tonight, including battling their big guys in the post. Having someone that versatile is a blessing for us.”
The teams went back and forth in the second quarter, with neither gaining the upper hand until Lopez made a three-point play and followed it with a clever pass to Hunter Gutierrez for an easy lay-up. That burst allowed Vintage to take a 24-21 lead into the locker room at halftime. Lopez was leading all scorers with seven points at the intermission.
The third quarter definitely tested the Crushers’ resolve. After taking their largest lead of the game at 28-23 with back-to-back Gutierrez buckets, Vintage went ice cold and didn’t score again for five minutes.
Johnson furiously shuffled his lineup to find a winning combination, and Abrahan Cortes finally halted the Red Hawks’ streak with a short jumper that brought Vintage within 32-30. Lopez stepped up again and fed David Fernandez for a layup and then followed that with a leaning jumper that tied the game at 34-34 as the buzzer ended the third quarter.
It was anybody’s game when the fourth quarter opened. Alfaro made a stumbling layup that gave Vintage its first lead in nearly eight minutes at 36-34. Another acrobatic up-and-under layup by Lopez kept the Crushers ahead, 38-36, with 5:30 to go, but Vallejo refused to go away. A running one-hander by Cortes gave Vintage a 40-38 lead at four minutes to go. Rendon then took the game over, making a leaning one-hander, followed by his team’s first three, and then scored on a driving layup to stretch the Vintage lead to six. Fernandez scored the dagger with a 3-pointer for a 50-41 lead with 45 seconds left.
Gutierrez finished with nine points, Fernandez chipped in eight and Alfaro had four, while Max Phipps added three, and Cortes and Blake Murray two apiece.
The Crushers will look to make it five straight when they play the Petaluma Trojans (3-3) at the Crusher gym Friday at 7 p.m.