Most Viewed Stories
Bulldogs fall just short
Central Valley tops Gridley in Northern Section title game
The Chico State graduate hadn't returned to his alma mater in nearly five years, except for coaching occasional summer ball games.
Friday's contest at Acker Gym was hardly a casual visit.
The No. 4 Bulldogs, fresh off their upset of No. 1 Orland on Wednesday, needed one more victory to claim the Northern Section Division IV championship.
For a little more than three quarters, Gridley was locked in a seesaw battle with No. 3 Central Valley, the reigning section champion.
Trailing only 43-40 early in the fourth quarter, hoisting a championship banner was within striking distance for the Bulldogs — until the foul trouble started.
Gridley sent Central Valley to the free-throw line 11 times to attempt 22 shots in the fourth quarter alone — the Bulldogs attempted 19 free throws the entire game.
The Falcons outscored the Bulldogs 22-9 over the final eight minutes of play with 16 of those points off free throws to claim their second straight D-IV championship 62-46.
Senior guard Kevin Mattos fouled out, while playmakers Mike Fenn and Mat Scott spent the majority of the second half on the bench due to foul trouble.
Link couldn't fault the aggressive play of his team as that was one of the main reasons they were even in the section championship game.
"We didn't make the adjustment and do a good enough job of moving our feet," Link said. "(Central Valley) did a great job of attacking and taking advantage of that.
"It's disappointing because there were some things we could have done a little better."
That includes shooting more consistently from the field.
Gridley (14-13) shot 19 percent in the first half. Both teams struggled from the field in the opening quarter. The first field goal wasn't made until just over 3 minutes remained in the first.
Gridley's biggest lead was three points in the third quarter after senior Aaron Medina scored with a putback plus a free throw to put the Bulldogs ahead 37-34. Central Valley responded with a 5-0 run and never looked back.
Central Valley senior Carlos Mancasola scored 15 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, his 13th 20-point game this season.
Medina led Gridley with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Scott scored 11, including a highlight-reel, two-handed slam dunk to knot the score at 39-39 to begin the fourth quarter.
"We pushed so hard, we did everything we could," Medina said. "We're a family. I didn't even think coming to play at Chico State would be an experience we would get."
This was Gridley's first section title game appearance since 2003. The Bulldogs were knocked out of the postseason in the quarterfinals last year and the semifinals in both 2010 and 2009.
The Bulldogs' aforementioned victory over Orland was the senior class' second win in 10 tries against the Trojans.
That stat and a berth in the CIF NorCal Championships are the positives Link focused on in his postgame speech to his players.
"Besides beating Orland, this is probably one of the best experiences for us," Fenn said. "All season we'd been trying to get here and it feels great. It was a tough loss, but it feels good to make it this far."
Gridley will find out its opponent for the NorCal Championships on Sunday with first-round games scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
The Bulldogs will be on the road, likely facing one of the top programs in the North State.
That won't intimidate Gridley. After all, this is the same program that hosts programs like Salesian, Jesuit and Sacramento in their own invitational tournament.
"You never know what can happen," Link said. "We'll just try to go have some fun and enjoy the experience."
CONTACT Jimmy Graben at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4791. Find him on Facebook at advarsitysports or on Twitter at @ADjgraben