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Wildcats run with No. 1 Dragons, but bow out in D-III

Sacramento wins semifinal battle, advances to section championship
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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GALT — Ignoring their No. 5 seed and refusing to be bullied by perennial area power Sacramento, the Whitney Wildcats proved they could hang with the best in Division III. Whitney fell a few clutch shots short, however, in bowing out of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs with a 62-47 loss to top seed Sacramento Wednesday night. The Wildcats finished the season 22-8 under first-year head coach Bryce Newell. “It was a phenomenal year,” Newell said. “These kids are a special group. To do what they did this year is pretty awesome, considering that I’m new, the philosophy’s new, the style of play is new. I’m extremely proud of my guys. I told them to keep their heads up.” Whitney led the Dragons (23-6) for the first six-and-a-half minutes and trailed 10-9 entering the second quarter. The Wildcats took their largest lead of the half, 27-23, on a 3-pointer by Eric Gee 1:55 before the intermission. Whitney opened the third quarter on an 8-4 run, breaking a 27-27 halftime tie to take its largest lead of the game on a Derek Knutty putback midway through the third quarter, a basket that gave the Wildcats a 35-31 edge. “We just wanted to slow it down, give them as few possessions as possible and keep it low scoring,” said Gee, who scored all nine of his points on treys. After Sacramento knotted things at 39 entering the final quarter, Jordan Wilson’s free throw to open the fourth gave Whitney its final lead. Led by stellar point guard Chase Tapley, the Dragons used a 10-1 run over the next four minutes to take a 49-41 lead with 3:31 left. “We just had one bad stretch of turnovers, and against a team like that that’s all they really need,” Gee said. Tapley finished with a game-high 23 points. “They hit some timely 3s,” Newell said. “Chase is a great, great player. My hat goes off to him. He made tough shots.” Sacramento scored eight unanswered points in the final 1:14, six of which came off steals. Wilson led the Wildcats with 15 points. Guard Cody Borst scored 14. While the Dragons move on to play No. 2 Del Oro for the section championship Friday night at Arco Arena, Gee reflected on Whitney’s successes this season. “It’s really good that we can come out and do what we did in (Newell’s) first year,” the junior said. “We’re just looking to build on it in seasons to come.”