EL CENTRO — The Brawley Wildcats overpowered the Central Spartans 70-65 as the teams squared up at Spartan Arena Tuesday night in a boys’ Varsity high school basketball duel that came down to an old-fashioned toilet bowl on the last possession.
Brawley landed two quick unanswered blows on an opening three-pointer from the top of the arc by forward Casey Kline and a pull-up tear drop from center Isaiah Bustamante to give the Wildcats an early 5-0 lead.
Spartan center Diego Baez laid one in off the glass from the right side to put up Central’s first points of the game.
The Wildcats’ Bustamante hit another jumper from the right elbow, but Spartan shooting guard Diego Navarro knocked down a long ball from the left wing to make it a one possession game, 7-5 with Brawley at an advantage with just over four minutes remaining in the first quarter.
A steal and a layup by point guard Adalberto Lopez put the Wildcats ahead 14-5. On the very next possession, Navarro drained another three and converted a free throw on the shot attempt to complete a four-point play and cut into the Brawley lead 14-9 with one minute to go in the opening period.
The Wildcats closed out the first quarter 18-11 on a three-pointer by guard Jose Cristerna and a free throw by Bustamante.
The Spartans brought out the artillery in the second quarter, utilizing the first six minutes to take off on a 22-4 run.
Eric Lopez began the rally with a runner down the middle, and Robert Garibay sunk in a step back and three free throws, while Navarro netted 10 more points when he nailed another one from downtown, plus five free throws — catapulting Central to a 33-22 lead with 1:40 left before halftime.
Lopez helped Brawley gain ground as he splashed in a three ball from the right side and drove in a layup to go into halftime on a 9-3 run, with the Wildcats down 35-31.
Brawley’s shooting guard Moises Lazos set the second half tone for the Wildcats on a laser from behind the three-point line, and Lopez saw four straight free throws go in as he shot technical foul penalties. Kline put in his second long-shot of the game to stifle the Spartans at 42-35 three minutes into the second half.
After a Central timeout, Lopez hit another big shot from the right wing and then tipped back an offensive rebound as the Wildcats shredded the Spartans 21-7 in the third quarter and reclaimed a 52-42 advantage going into the final period.
Central staggered back to counter with a 9-2 outpouring at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Navarro flung in seven points during the run to make it 55-51 for Brawley with 4:06 remaining in the game.
Lopez gave the Wildcats breathing room as he swished two more sets of free throws, lobbed a floater, and drove in a layup from the left side for a 65-57 cushion after a made Spartan free throw.
Central continued to attack offensively and remained poised on defense as TJ Smith and Navarro knocked down back to back threes to make it a close 66-63 contest with 28 seconds left to play.
An exchange of free throws put the score at 68-65 for the Wildcats, and 11 seconds remained with Central’s possession.
The Spartans drew up a play for their sharp-shooter Navarro who put up an off-balance three-pointer from the top of the key that was in perfect line with the basket.
As the Central hopefuls crossed their fingers, the ball sloshed around the bucket and rolled out. Brawley snatched away the rebound and the dreams of a Spartan overtime comeback as the Wildcats claimed the 70-65 victory after tacking on two more free throws.
“It’s a good win because it’s a tournament tough win,” said Jeff Deyo, head coach of the Brawley boys’ Varsity squad. “We’re getting ready for the tournament this time of year; these are the types of games we’re going to be playing in the CIF State tournament.”
Next up, Brawley will host the Palo Verde Yellow Jackets in a non-conference game Friday at 7 p.m. while the Spartans will travel to Holtville for a non-conference game against the Vikings Friday at 7 p.m.