Tatum wins 2OT district-clinching battle
By Tom Mulherin
TATUM – When there’s a will, there’s a way, right?
Facing visiting Gateway Christian in a game that would impact the outlook of the top two seeds in District 4-2A Thursday night, the Tatum boys’ basketball team overcame several deficits to close out its regular season with an emotional, 59-54 double-overtime win.
Thrice the Coyotes had to battle back from deficits in the fourth quarter and two overtime periods, but big pushes from the defense, Sebastian Jimenez and Omar Pinon late in the game kept the team competitive. And once Tatum started to knock down its free throws more consistently, the Coyotes were able to outscore the Warriors in the second overtime, 6-1, to run away with the victory.
By winning, Tatum (16-7, 5-1 District 4-2A) clinched the top seed in the district tournament for the first time in three years. Gateway Christian (18-8, 3-3) finished second.
“It’s for the fans,” Jimenez said. “For us to pull this out, it’s crazy man. Especially for these fans. If you look around, smiles everywhere. It’s crazy.”
“(It was) huge,” added head coach Royce Brown. “We’ve been chasing a district championship all year. … That was a big game, great game by (Gateway Christian).”
This game was just about as up-and-down as it can get, especially in the end.
Trailing 38-36 to start the fourth, Jimenez stared down his defender before drilling home a 3-pointer for the lead. The Warriors used offensive rebounds – just as they did throughout the entire game – to get back up 41-39, but Jimenez turned back-to-back Gateway Christian turnovers into two more makes from deep.
All momentum was in the Coyotes’ corner, especially with a fourth-quarter lead as high as 46-41 with two minutes left in the game. But Gateway Christian knocked down two of its seven 3-pointers on the night in the final minutes, Tatum couldn’t close the game with free throws, and overtime came when the Warriors took a steal with 13 seconds left and tied it at 49.
Gateway Christian seemed to steal the momentum from there, holding the Coyotes to just two points through most of the first overtime period. But as time ticked down and the Warriors led by just two points, Tatum’s Cristian Marizcal bounced in a mid-range jumper around the buzzer to force another overtime.
Ultimately, the free throw game determined the outcome of the two overtime periods, despite six Gateway Christian offensive rebounds in that time. Jimenez, Pinon and Marizcal were fouled a lot and combined to hit 8 of 12 free throws to seal the deal, while the Warriors went 3 of 7 while failing to hit more than one field goal.
Of course, it also helped that Gateway Christian, which posted 13 offensive rebounds in all, didn’t have two of its better rebounders in the final overtime period after fouling out. With or without that rebounding boost, though, Jimenez was just happy with how resilient the team was, especially in the big moments.
“We just kept our heads straight,” he said. “Never give up. That’s it, three words. Never give up. That’s what we did the whole time. They had the lead, they did … but we just never gave up.”
In all, Gateway Christian led throughout most of the game with the exception of a couple of moments in the second and third quarters before the late surge went down. But, of course, Tatum outscored the Warriors 33-25 in the second half to steal the win.
Jimenez led in scoring with 25 points, while Pinon added 12 points, seven assists, six steals and five rebounds in a stellar, all-around effort.