California boys rally back from 24-point deficit to upset Class 2A No. 4 Jeannette

By: HSSN Staff
Friday, January 11, 2019 | 9:54 PM

California junior Malik Ramsey didn’t start Friday’s WPIAL Section 2-2A game at Jeannette.

He missed practice and California coach Aaron Balla sat him to start the game.

But Ramsey was there for his coach and teammates once he entered the game.

Ramsey scored a game-high 35 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, and California rallied from a 24-point first-half deficit to stun No. 4 Jeannette, 75-70.

The loss, which Jeannette coach Adrian Batts termed embarrassing, forced Batts to cancel a trip to Brooklyn on Saturday to watch his son Julian play so he could hold a practice.

Jeannette (8-5, 4-1), which travels to Serra Catholic for a first-place showdown Tuesday, controlled the game in the first half behind senior guard A.J. Sharp, who scored 16 of his team-high 23 points.

The Jayhawks led 21-9 after one quarter and pushed the advantage to 37-13 in the second quarter. Jeannette led 41-22 at halftime.

“I told them at halftime this game wasn’t over,” Batts said. “We didn’t do anything we planned and stopped playing.”

Ramsey was held to five points in the first half, but he was a different player in the second half.

He took over the game.

“We had a motivational talk at halftime,” Balla said. “They needed a reminder of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

California also switched defenses in the second half, and Jeannette got sloppy with the ball. The Trojans started the game in a 1-2-2 half-court press and switched to a 2-2-1.

“We noticed they had trouble with the 1-2-2,” Balla said. “But we didn’t execute well and went back to our strength. They were passing the ball right to us.”

Jeannette turned the ball over 24 times, 15 in the second half and eight in the final quarter.

And while Jeannette was struggling, Ramsey played like he was possessed as he and the Trojans continued to get to the basket.

“Malik understands his role, and he was getting other players involved,” Balla said. “He takes over a game on his own.”

California took its first lead of the game on a bucket by Ramsey to make it 67-66. Jackson Pruitt hit a free throw to tie the score, but Jason Zuzak (11 points) scored to give the Trojans a 69-67 lead with 1:11 left.

Zach Crutchman (22 points) nailed a 3-pointer to give Jeannette a 70-69 lead with 47 seconds left.

But Ramsey hit four consecutive free throws and a layup after two Jeannette turnovers to clinch the victory.

“This was a bad loss,” Batts said. “We practice against a trap every day, and we just do what we want sometimes.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at [email protected] or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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