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Oh boy! Freshmen finish 25-0

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Cesar Balderas will have a tough act to follow in his second season as the freshman boys basketball coach at Lincoln High School. He only hopes he will have a shot at an encore on the court. Balderas fears budget cuts at his alma mater could dunk the freshman team. The 2009 Lincoln graduate would love to stay, especially after his inaugural season became the talk of the town. As the varsity boys and girls teams struggled, the freshman boys won game after game. The Zebras finished 25-0, capping their perfect season Friday with a 62-45 victory over Colfax. A large crowd was on hand to witness the final chapter of an amazing story. Six members of the varsity girls team stuck around after returning from their game at Colfax to root for the freshmen. The girls rose to their feet as the final seconds ticked away and chanted “Un-de-feat-ed!” They also waited outside of the locker room after the game to pat each of the freshmen on the back. Balderas was busy in the locker room, tending to the task of collecting uniforms. When he finally emerged, he sighed in relief and accepted congratulations from parents and other supporters. One of the first people to approach Balderas was his former coach at Lincoln, Michael Murphy. Balderas then celebrated with his buddies, who attended most every game during the season. Friday’s game was closer than most for the Zebras, who usually won in lopsided fashion. The 17-point margin was the closest any Pioneer Valley League opponent came to Lincoln in nine games. Nerves might have got the best of the Zebras in the first half, which ended with Marcus Salgado swishing a buzzer-beating shot from beyond half-court. His long 3-pointer gave Lincoln a 29-20 lead. “(Salgado) does that all the time in practice,” teammate Matt Shirley joked. Jake Sola saw the ball leave Salgado’s hands and realized right away that “it had the distance.” In fact, Balderas recalled Salgado sinking a similar shot during practice last Thursday. Salgado admitted he and his teammates might have been too excited for their own good in the first half. Sola added his own buzzer-beater in the third quarter, scoring after grabbing a rebound to extend Lincoln’s lead to 45-35. Sola returned to action Friday after missing three weeks with a knee injury. “I was not going to miss it,” he said, “not when it’s this close (to going unbeaten).” If this season was Balderas’ only one at Lincoln, he will leave with enough memories to fill the gymnasium. “These guys will always be special to me,” he said. “I’ll never forget them.” Also playing for the Zebras were Austin Mallory, Francis Abumuher, Michael Lasap, Adam Felt, Bryce Hyatt, T.J. Bolden, and, Ethan Everett. If a 10 is perfect, Balders had just that many players. “This is a great feeling,” Salgado said. “It’s awesome.”