MODESTO — The first time is always the most memorable. And they’ll never forget this one at Gregori High School.
Kyle Monk hit a three-point field goal as time expired, lifting the Jaguars to an improbable 77-74 comeback victory over Lincoln (Stockton) in their Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff opener on Wednesday.
It was the first playoff victory in school history.
“This is not only huge for our team, but for Kyle going forward, developing confidence not only in himself, but with other teammates knowing that, ‘You know what, he pretty much won us a game tonight,’” said Gregori head coach Ryan Green, who has led the Jaguars to the league tittles and postseason appearances in each of his two seasons at the helm. “I mean, it’s a team effort, obviously, but that last 60 seconds was … I’m still in shock. I can’t believe it. … I’ve never been part of a game like that.”
Monk scored 14 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, 11 coming in the final 60 seconds when he took over the contest and willed his team to victory.
“We just needed a couple points to get some momentum and we were down by five,” said Monk, whose career high (24) came last season against city rival Downey. “I had a good shot and it went in, multiple times in a row.”
Trialing 71-63 with 1:09 to play, junior Carlos Hernandez scored inside the paint, was fouled and hit the ensuing free throw to make it 71-66 — still a formidable deficit with just 69 seconds remaining.
But Gregori came up with a stop and Monk was fouled going to the basket. He connected on both free throws to make it 71-68 with one minute remaining. Sixteen seconds later, Monk hit a shot inside the key that drew the Jaguars to within on and, following a steal, he scored on a layup to give Gregori the lead at 72-71 with 39 ticks left on the clock.
With 19.8 seconds to play, Monk was sent to the line again and once more connected on both, making it 74-71.
But Lincoln’s D.J. Balanon connected on his third three-pointer of the contest with 9.5 seconds to play.
Monk made sure there would be no overtime.
“I was going to the corner and Julian (Brown) had the ball, dribbling up,” said Monk. “And my man kind of helped on him, and I was like ‘Right here, right here, right here!” And he hit me, and I just threw it up, held my release and it went in. And then time expired. It was crazy.”
The Jaguars (25-4) next will travel to Sacramento on Friday to take on top-seeded Sheldon (24-5), the two-time defending Northern California champion that is ranked No. 11 in the nation by MaxPreps.com.
“I knew after the Gallo tournament and the Modesto Christian tournament we can play with anybody,” said Green. “We know what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to play smart basketball. We don’t have to necessarily be the best team. Play smart. If we play smart and play better than the other team, anything can happen. We’ve seen upsets before. We’ll be ready.”