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Inland Empire: Div. 3A boys' basketball: GG Pacifica 60, Citrus Hill 55

GARDEN GROVE – Perris Citrus Hill coach Tim Hatch was feeling pretty good about the situation, then everything changed in an instant.

The visiting Hawks had a cut a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to one with 16.2 seconds remaining Friday night against Garden Grove Pacifica in the Division 3A second-round game. The Mariners were intentionally fouled, but before they could step to the free-throw line, Hatch called timeout.

That’s when he received some very shocking news.

His team had just been assessed a technical foul for calling a timeout it didn’t have. Instead of shooting two foul shots, Pacifica was awarded four and possession of the ball. The Mariners made three, went to the line again after getting fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass and made another.

Without a tick of the clock, a one-point deficit had turned to five and the 11th-seeded Hawks never got off another shot in the 60-55 loss at Pacifica.

Hatch screamed at the scorer’s table and flung his arms in anger. He paused to shake hands and congratulate the sixth-seeded Mariners, then headed off the floor, wondering how a watershed season could end in such frustrating fashion.

According to the Hawks, the confusion began after Citrus Hill made a three-point basket with 28 seconds remaining, cutting the deficit to 56-54. The clock operator never stopped the clock after the conversion and the scoreboard operator accidentally gave the points to Pacifica.

Play was stopped to correct the clock and scoreboard, and that’s when the Hawks say the official scorer marked them for a timeout they never called. Hatch said he checked with the table before calling his final timeout and was informed he still had one left.

“All of a sudden, it disappeared,” Hatch said. “I dispute that. My book guy is on it, he has the times written down … they get the ball plus the four free throws. That’s down the stretch, that’s huge.”

Hatch then became emotional thinking about where the team was two years ago and how far they’ve progressed. Hatch underwent angioplasty surgery on his heart in February 2009 and couldn’t be with the team during the final week. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever coach again.

But he returned last season and guided the Hawks to an 8-19 record and a first-round loss in the playoffs. This season, Citrus Hill took a giant step forward, finishing 18-9 in the regular season, including 10-0 in the Mountain Pass League for the program’s first league title.

The team’s resiliency was evident down the stretch against the Mariners.

“To come back and fight the way we fought, down double digits,” Hatch said. “I’ll take that any day.”

Oyintonye Akamande scored 16 points for the Hawks and Anthony Rounds had 14 before fouling out just before the disputed technical foul.

Rounds, a 6-foot-6 junior forward who came in averaging 19.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, is expected to be one of the Inland Empire’s top seniors next season. Coupled with a junior varsity team that went 10-0 in league this season, Hatch said he still had plenty of reasons to smile on the rainy drive back to Perris.