After the postgame handshakes, Randy Bartholomew had to take it all in. He sat down, hands touching the sides of his head, and took several deep breaths.
Finally, it was over. The Live Oak High boys basketball team had just secured its first league win in suspenseful fashion, 72-70 over Del Mar High, on Jan. 18, and the emotions were palpable.
“I feel like I had a coronary,” Bartholomew said, an apt description considering the frenzied, up-and-down nature of the game. “Nothing easy, nothing easy. We just had to get that zero off our back.”
Even though the Acorns entered the Del Mar game with a non-league win to its credit, it came against a clearly overmatched Luis Valdez Leadership Academy team on Dec. 10, a 72-20 blowout. So, beating Del Mar was more of a validation and earned Live Oak its first victory in Blossom Valley Athletic League Santa Teresa Division action.
Bartholomew knew this season would be a rebuild as the team graduated nine seniors and four starters off the 2021-2022 group. But the players have kept on competing even though the results haven’t come in the form of wins, so when it does come as it did against the Dons, it’s monumental, especially from a mental standpoint.
“That was the biggest thing, just getting these guys to believe in themselves,” Bartholomew said. “We’re pushing hard in practice every single day, and we’ve been building, building, building.”
Ray Ramirez scored 20 points, Austin Jennings had 12—including the game-winner—and Adria Tomey finished with 11 in a game that had as many twists and turns as a Stephen King novel. The Acorns were seemingly in control up 62-58 with 4 minutes, 8 seconds remaining, and moments earlier seeing Del Mar’s best player—who had given Live Oak fits all night—foul out.
However, Jennings committed a foul and then was assessed a technical foul on the same play. Since the Dons were already in the bonus, they were awarded four free throws—making all four—and possession, and they scored to cap a quick 6-0 run.
In an instant, the Acorns’ four-point lead had turned into a two-point deficit.
“Four free throws and six points off that technical, uhh, that was hard,” Bartholomew said. “We were talking the whole time on the bench that nothing ever comes easy right now so I’m glad we finally got the ‘W’ and hopefully the guys can just take this and roll with it.”
Jennings certainly rolled with it, as his baby hook shot from just inside the free throw line at the buzzer clinched the victory. Talk about coming back strong. With the score 66-66, Ramirez led a fast break and zipped the ball to Jennings, who was streaking toward the basket.
The pass had a bit too much juice and was headed out of bounds when Jennings made an incredible play, grabbing the ball and whipping a no-look reverse pass as he jumped over the end line. Ramirez, who alertly followed the play, caught the ball in-stride in the paint and hit a layup for the go-ahead score with 50 seconds to go.
After a couple of scoring exchanges, the Acorns took possession with the score 70-70 and 12.3 seconds left. Ryan Murray inbounded the ball to Jennings, who worked his way into the high post. After Live Oak whipped the ball around the perimeter, they found Jennings open near the free throw line.
Once Jennings got the ball, he knew what to do, smoothly hitting a turnaround baby hook shot at the buzzer to win it. Finally, the Acorns got the result they wanted after working hard all season.
“We just have to keep competing everyday,” Bartholomew said. “We put in competitive stuff in practice and compete, compete, and a couple of games it showed when we lost to Prospect by 12 and by 14 to Evergreen [Valley]. They’re good teams and at the top of our league right now, so I told our guys the potential is there. We just have to keep trying, keep building and just trust each other. That’s the biggest thing—we have to trust each other.”
Jennings and Ramirez came through when it counted the most, with Ramirez scoring 16 of his 20 points in the second half and Jennings scoring 10 of his 12 points in the final two quarters.
Jennings continued his stellar play in a 83-81 overtime loss to Andrew Hill on Wednesday, exploding for a career-high 27 points. Ramirez was simply sensational against Del Mar, on three occasions producing a steal which he took in for a layup.
Those plays often were momentum killers for Del Mar or helped spark an Acorns’ spurt. Ramirez’s dribble-drive ability also was key in the win.
“Ray was big tonight,” Bartholomew said. “If he plays defense like that the rest of the year, we’ll do great.”
Tomey, a sophomore transfer student from Spain, has given the team a boost with his demeanor on the court, ball-handling and defensive play.
“Adria came out with his best game tonight,” Bartholomew said. “He played really well in the last game and this game he really put it together.”
Murray had seven points and seven assists in another strong effort, and JJ Becks (outside shooting), Ulysses Beasley (ball handling and defense), Keaton Dietz, Sam Decker, Riley Murrill and Lukas Marcheschi all got in the scoring column.