CIF-bound Spartans and Yellow Jackets face off in final regular season game

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Palo Verde guard JJ Atkinson (#23) drives the lane against Central Thursday night.

EL CENTRO — The Palo Verde Yellow Jackets swarmed into El Centro Thursday night and stung the Central Spartans 60-57 in the final game of Imperial Valley League and Desert Valley League boys’ high school basketball conference play. 

As both teams came out showing a 2-3 defensive zone scheme, Central was the first to capitalize on effective ball movement when guard TJ Smith found an open spot on the perimeter and hit bottoms from the left corner.

A Spartan foul on Yellow Jacket guard Jeremy Wood resulted in two successful free throws making the score 3-2 in Central’s favor.

Diego Baez received an entry pass in the post and banked in a turn-around jump shot to fuel a Spartan 12 – 6 run. Central center Charles Thomas hit a hook to get going and then followed it up with a jumper from the right elbow. Baez tossed in two more buckets while the Spartan defense surrendered only three additional field goals to close out the first quarter ahead 15-8.        

The agitated Yellow Jacket offense hit the Spartan defense repeatedly in the second period as Palo Verde scored eight straight points to take a 16-15 lead.

Spartan guard Darrell Nicholson rose above his defender and nailed a jumper to give Central its first made basket of the quarter and take back the lead at 17-16 with under five minutes to play before halftime.

After swishing two free throws, Palo Verde forward Terry Daniels knocked down a step-back fade away to put the Yellow Jackets up by three.

Thomas continued his offensive contribution with a rebound put-back and a two-handed reverse layup bringing the Spartans to within two. Baez drained another one from his sweet spot on the last offensive possession of the half, and knotted up the game 25-25 at the break.

The Spartans suffered from a delayed reaction to the stinging sequence of the second quarter as Palo Verde increased the intensity and blitzed Central for 23 points in the third period. The Spartans, subdued from the Yellow Jacket venom, only produced 10 points to make it a 48-35 contest going into the final quarter.

An 18 to 10 surge by Central found the Spartans down only two possessions at 58-53 with 1:02 remaining in the game.

Central intentionally fouled Palo Verde on the inbound to stop the clock and put the Yellow Jackets on the free throw-line in an attempt to create rebound opportunities.

Conceding only one of two free throws, Spartan shooting guard Diego Navarro darted down court and drove in a layup.  After more “hack-a-jacket” strategy and two back-to-back clanks, Navarro splashed in a runner from the base line as Palo Verde’s lead shrunk to 59-57.      

Another immediate foul put the Yellow Jackets back on the charity stripe; Palo Verde made one and missed one giving Central the ball down by three with 13 seconds left to play.

Spartan go-to-guy Navarro pulled up from beyond the arc for the tie, but his bank shot rattled out and the first place DVL powerhouse Yellow Jackets hindered Central’s come-back efforts and escaped with the narrow win and 60-57 victory.

 “Tonight was a big win for our guys to motivate us and get us going for the first round of the playoffs,” said Jason Atkinson, Palo Verde boys’ Varsity basketball head coach.

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