El Dorado’s quest for a deep playoff run came to an abrupt end Wednesday as a determined Natomas team hit crucial shots and free throws done the stretch to send the Cougars home with a tough 81-77 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff defeat.
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The Nighthawks took the early advantage as turnovers hit both sides. Trailing 8-2, the Cougars clawed their way back behind the play of Ben Thomas, who poured in 17 points and grabbed 7 rebounds on the night, to pull within four 20-16 at the end of the first quarter.
Over the course of the next eight minutes the two teams exchanged baskets. El Dorado was paced by Justin Morrison (16 points, five rebounds) along with a strong contribution from Tommy Williams (10 points, five boards) but Natomas held the lead and went to the half up by a 45-40 score.
The Cougars appeared to take control with a 12-3 run to start the third quarter behind the play of Joe Visman (13 points, eight rebounds) and Nick Jemmott (11 points) to create momentum and a 52-49 advantage but it was short lived as the Nighthawks regained their rhythm to recapture the lead 62-61 going into the final eight minutes of the season.
El Dorado battled and contested every Natomas possession in the fourth quarter, grabbing some incredible rebounds. Thomas, along with Williams, made some clutch shots to keep the Cougars within three with two minutes left in the game before the Nighthawks sank free throws and an important jumper to close the door, and season, on El Dorado.
The Cougars finished with an overall record of 16-10.