Porterville College men’s basketball coach T.J. Jennings may sprout a few gray hairs before this season is over.
A week after watching his Pirates nearly squander a 20-point lead against Compton, Porterville survived a late charge by another opponent and held on for a wild win in its Central Valley Conference opener Wednesday night at home.
Fueled by a 30-point performance by sophomore Mikey Hidalgo, the undersized Pirates made good at the foul line late to eke out a 74-70 victory over West Hills even as star guard Jason Carmichael watched from the bleachers.
“I’m actually starting to get used to (these close finishes),” Jennings said. “I’ve always wanted a 30-point win where I can sit down and relax, but I don’t think that God’s going to bless me with that any time soon.”
Not against the Falcons was Jennings blessed with an easy path to victory.
Hidalgo — all 155 pounds and 5 feet, 8 inches of him — buried a 3-pointer from the corner to extend the Pirates’ (8-8, 1-0 CVC) lead to 67-59 with 6 minutes, 10 seconds left in the game.
West Hills, however, went on an 8-2 run over the next 4:43 to pull itself within 69-67 with time winding down.
With less than a minute to go, Porterville’s Kameron Hoyt found Jordan Wilkinson slashing inside. The 6-foot-7 Wilkinson dropped in an easy bucket, was fouled on his way going up and made the free throw to give Porterville a 5-point advantage.
Moments later, Wilkinson connected on two more foul shots to extend the Pirates’ lead to 74-67 and ice the win.
Kennis White knocked down a long trey at the buzzer, but it was too little too late for the Falcons (9-8, 0-1).
“It’s huge,” Jennings said of starting off the CVC slate on a winning note. “Everything is based on momentum. It sets the precedence for us to finish in the top half of the league.”
Making the win even more huge for Porterville was the fact that Carmichael, who scored 17 points in the Pirates’ 100-96 win over Compton last week, never set foot on the court.
Jennings said Carmichael sat out for a “violation of team rules” and may or may not play in Porterville’s next game against Columbia on Saturday.
So the third-year coach needed someone to step up against West Hills.
Hidalgo did just that.
The sophomore scored 21 of his team’s 35 points in the first half to keep the game close. As the Falcons were making a run late in the game, Hidalgo buried a trey even though he was pushed by Michael Balogun on the attempt. Hidalgo then swished the free throw to convert the 4-point play and give Porterville a 64-57 lead.
“Our best player sat out, so I had to step up,” said Hidalgo, who also snagged four rebounds. “I was feeling it. Coach told me to believe in myself, and I did.”
Donald Lee scored 18 points for the Pirates while Hoyt added 15.