And give the Patterson High boys basketball team some credit: The team that was labeled as having too much talent and not enough experience clinched a postseason berth Friday.
The streaky Foster scored 25 points, and the Tigers earned their second-straight playoff appearance, beating host Hilmar, 73-60.
“I’ve said all season long that with the amount of talent that we have, when we focus and play together as a team, we are tough to beat,” Patterson coach Tony Lomeli Jr. said. “There has never been a question as to our depth.
“We are starting to play together and using our strengths to our advantage.”
After dropping consecutive games earlier this month to Orestimba and Central Catholic, Foster and the Tigers seemed to take out all their frustration on their opponents down the stretch, ending the Western Athletic Conference season on a three-game winning streak.
“(During the losses to Orestimba and Central Catholic) we went away from what we’ve been doing all year,” Foster said. “We felt that every game was a must-win game for us since then.”
When the final buzzer sounded Friday, Patterson immediately switched into playoff mode. The No. 10-seed Tigers (19-8 overall, 10-5 WAC) travel today to face No. 7 Sonora (17-8, 9-4 Valley Oak League) in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
“We’re not satisfied,” Foster said. “We have another one to get. We know it’s going to be very electric Wednesday, and we’re looking forward to it.”
The Tigers took control in the first quarter Friday, outscoring the Yellowjackets, 22-5, and limiting Hilmar to 2-of-14 shooting. Patterson rode its momentum to a 36-27 halftime advantage.
Foster, who didn’t see a lot of playing time last season, has really emerged, saving one of his best games for last. After Hilmar threw the ball away late in the third quarter, Felix Mapanda took off down the right side of the court and passed off to Foster, who was breaking down the other wing. Foster took off a good 6 feet from the basket and laid it up over a Yellowjackets defender.
With the Patterson crowd still buzzing over that one, Foster pulled up and hit a 3-pointer that gave the Tigers a 58-42 lead heading into the fourth quarter. He backpedaled all the way down the court, then slapped hands with his playoff-ready teammates on the baseline.
Mapanda added 12 points, including a 3-pointer of his own.
“We accomplished what we wanted to get done in the last three games of the season, and that’s to finish strong,” Lomeli said. “You make the right steps and you follow through, and good things will happen to a team. You set yourself up for success.”
Lately, Patterson has been showing much better ball movement and a willingness to run, utilizing its team depth from the opening quarter and on.
Seniors Daniel Reza and Emmanuel Brooks provided a boost from the bench, scoring nine points and seven points, respectively. Justin Nuckolls and Ronyea Ellington tacked on four points apiece.
“Grabbing (momentum) when you’ve got it — that’s something that I think the playoffs are about, and it sets us up for the road ahead,” Lomeli said.
“We spent some time (earlier in the season) searching for our identity,” he said. “But we’ve had an identity for a while now.”