Duenkel leads Eagles over River City

By: Brett Ransford/Telegraph Correspondent
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It's been a long journey for the once 0-10 Vista del Lago boys' basketball team. Poised to win its third straight on senior night, it was a junior who stole the show and possibly saved the season. Jake Duenkel turned out the best performance of his high school career, scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead Vista to a 79-71 win over River City. The latest Sac-Joaquin Section rankings had the Eagles at No. 12 in Division III. The win all but solidified a postseason in their future. The track meet style of play narrowly favored River CIty entering the fourth quarter, 53-50. The visitor's found their way to the basket with some creative drives and put Vista down by a two-possession game with less than two minutes to play. Duenkel scored 13 of Vista's 21 points in the fourth quarter and put it upon himself to keep his team in it late. He reclaimed the lead on a pair of free throws with 24.1 seconds to play and a final possession by the Eagles resulted a missed opportunity at a potential game winning shot. Nothing could shake Duenkel at the line. He made 11-of-11 free throws, including four in overtime. Consequently, River City's inability to answer manifested in shooting 0-of-8 from the field and 0-for-3 from three-point in the extra four minutes. Patrick Lowman and Drew McPherson made up a majority of the rest of Vista's points. Lowman had 20, scoring one point in overtime, and McPherson hit three three-pointers toward his 15 points. Tyler Jones, Ryan Rodriguez and Lowman were celebrated in pregame. Their last home game in high school was a bit overshadowed, though. Duenkel said he scored 20 points once as a freshman and his season high was nine points last year. Friday night he put up 27 points on a night when the final minutes of regulation had Vista nearly run out of its own gym. "I've never scored that many points in a game before," said Duenkel. "When they started double teaming Pat we set some ball screens for me and I found some shots." His humility was all the more impressive on top of his offensive performance. Lowman agreed the junior stepped up when the team needed a leader. "We knew it was a big game and sometimes we need extra motivation, but we knew what was on the line and were ready to play hard," said Lowman. "We can beat anybody and also lose to anybody on a given night." A team with a sub .500 record (13-14) and a 10-game losing streak to begin the season wouldn't be a likely candidate for the postseason. The past week has finalized a season-long turnaround for the Eagles. Von Tillow said he and Duenkel had a one-on-one conversation the day before playing River City. He said he spoke to Duenkel about meeting expectations the team has of him of being a consistent and elite scorer. With their backs against a wall and possibly facing an end to their season, Duenkel's role more than met his coach’s expectations. His performance may have even silenced a few of Vista's critics on behalf of its overall record, according to Von Tillow. "Good players sometimes have to do a lot more and he really did that," said von Tillow. "He likes to get other people going, but tonight we needed him to score and that's exactly what he did." Vista finished the Sierra Valley Conference with a 9-3 record -- a redeeming one when considered against its overall. JV Vista won a close game late in the fourth quarter 70-64. Tyler Sims led all scorers with 25 points and the Eagles pulled out the victory.