Wildcats edge Corcoran, 45-41

A little over a year ago, the Taft varsity boys basketball team entered the Corcoran High gym hopeful but came out with a playoff loss. The Wildcats erased those bad memories by returning to the scene of the crime Thursday evening when they edged out the Panthers 45-41 in the CIF-CS quarterfinal round of the Division IV playoffs.

“It was an unusual game,” said Taft coach Mark Hutson. “I thought the guys defensively were super.”

By winning, the Wildcats advance to the semi final round where they face Sierra in Tollhouse Tuesday.

Defense was the story of the game early on. Following Eric Le Clair’s free throw 50 seconds into the contest, neither team was able to score again until Corcoran’s Devonte Johnson sank a free throw at the 3:32 mark of the first quarter. Less than a minute later, Corcoran’s Ryan Luna scored the first field goal of the game to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead.

Taft finally caught fire with a 7-0 run thanks in part to Hunter Liljeroos’ three-pointer with 2:25 to go.  Corcoran’s Christian Carter ended the scoring streak with 13 seconds left by hitting a jumper, but Taft’s Caleb Lopez scored on a layup with two seconds left to give the Wildcats a 10-5 advantage.

The Panthers stormed back in the second quarter with seven straight points including Luna’s three pointer to start the rally one minute into the period.

Taft  regained the lead at 14-13 on Daniel Watts’ floater and Blake McPherson’s two free throws. Corcoran bounced back with three unanswered points to take their final lead of the half. Liljeroos followed up with a three-pointer to give Taft a 17-16 advantage. The Panthers had a chance to regain the lead but they missed a basket with 45 seconds remaining in the half.

McPherson helped increase the Taft lead 13 seconds into the third quarter with a jumper but Corcoran quickly erased the lead with a pair of putbacks to take the lead back at 20-19.

Taft surged ahead on baskets from McPherson and Le Clair but the Panthers countered with a basket to get within one at 23-22. After McPherson sank two free throws, Luna completed a three-point play to even the score at 25.

The score was tied one more time in the third quarter when Carter scored on a layup with 1:08 to go to knot the score at 27.

Taft’s offense finally came alive in the fourth quarter when they outscored Corcoran 12-5 thanks to a pair of free three-pointers from Liljeroos. The difference gave the Wildcats a 39-32 lead with 1:20 to go. 

Corcoran, though, was not about to go away.

With 27 seconds left in the contest, Carter sank a three-pointer to cut the Taft lead to five. Following Liljeroos’ free throw, Luna swishes a three-pointer to cut the Wildcat lead to 41-38 with 17 seconds remaining.

Despite the two three-pointers Taft was able to hold onto the victory after Liljeroos and Adrian Howell hit four free throws.

Liljeroos led Taft in scoring with 18 while McPherson had 8. Le Clair and Watts each had 6 points.

Carter led Corcoran in scoring with 13 while Luna had 11.

Tuesday’s semi final game against Sierra begins at 7 p.m.