Though the odds were stacked against them, the Bulldogs made it apparent how they ended up in the Northern Section title game on Saturday.
After shutting down the Orland Trojans for the second time this season in Wednesday’s semifinal game, the Bulldogs planned to use the same defensive strategy against the reigning Northern Section Division IV champions.
Last season, the Corning Cardinals knocked Gridley out of the playoffs in a 50-43 semi-final victory. But after earning the No.2 seed, the Bulldogs’ path to the title game was a lot smoother this year. And Gridley was quick to show the Cardinals they deserved to be there and weren’t going down without a fight.
Facing an obvious height disadvantage, the Bulldogs weren’t going to back down and kept the game within their reach throughout four quarters.
The Bulldogs even pulled a 9-6 lead before the Cardinals hit back-to-back shots to give Corning a 13-11 lead at the end of the first. Corning stretched that lead early in the second, but Gridley always managed to keep the game within their grasp, cutting the margin to just one point minutes before the break.
Corning eventually stretched their lead to 24-18 at the end of the half, and the Cardinals carried their momentum over into the third.
Two 3-pointers by Emery Haddy late in the third cut the Cardinals lead to two, but again the reigning section champs fired away. The scoreboard read 36-28 headed into the fourth, and the Cardinals pulled a 10-point lead with a little more than six minutes left to play.
With the section crown on the line, the Bulldogs picked up the intensity defensively and began fouling. Shobi Khan put on a clutch performance as the clock ticked away, again cutting the Cardinals lead to just six.
But the Cardinals capitalized on their FTs, hitting 13 of 18. Quinn Spring sunk a 3-pointer with under five seconds left, but it was only enough to bring the score within seven.
In the end, Corning pulled out their second straight Northern Section title by a score of 56-49.
With a roster filled with sophomores and juniors, things look favorable for the Bulldogs in the future. Sophomore Sam Cota led his team in the title game with 15 points, while fellow sophomore Spring had a team-high of eight rebounds. Spring put eight points on the board.
Khan put 14 points on the board, with 12 of those coming in the final period. Seniors Juan Magana and Emery Haddy each had six for Gridley.
The season is not over for the Bulldogs. On Wednesday, Gridley will travel to Richmond CA where they will take on former GIBT champion Salesian in the first round of the CIF State Playoffs.
The Pride, who took home the GIBT title three years in a row before coming in second place in 2012 and dropping all the way to sixth this past December, have not had as much success this season as they have in the past. Salesian comes into the game at 20-14 overall, far from their 30-4 season last year and 34-2 the year prior.
Gridley played Salesian in Round 2 of the GIBT this past year, but were blown own 65-27. However, the Bulldogs have improved greatly over the course of the season.