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Varsity Mustang Boys Fourth At Rotary Classic
Strong to the hoop, Shane Baxter goes up for a pair against Pitman on Friday. He was named to the All-Tournament Team for the Mustangs at the Oakdale Rotary Classic. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Leader

Three games in three days made for a busy stretch of basketball for Oakdale’s varsity boys but coach Jeremy Fields says the more games, the better.

It’s a chance for his young team to get some valuable game experience prior to the start of Valley Oak League play, and the ‘learning on the fly’ the team has done will hopefully pay some dividends down the road.

Oakdale played host to the 44th annual Rotary Classic in the Mustang gym, with both the JV and varsity programs playing games Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The varsity squad went 1-2, winning their opener Thursday against Hughson to go into the winner’s bracket. They fell on Friday to Pitman – which went on to win the title – and then fell just short in the third place game on Saturday, taking fourth place overall.

“We had a heartbreaking two-point loss to Ceres,” coach Fields said of the Saturday finale for his team. “They just made some plays at the end, we had opportunities and we played them a week ago and lost by 15.”

On the bright side, falling by just a bucket instead of double digits this time shows the team growth over a relatively short amount of time. On the down side, Fields said taking the loss showed the lack of experience in tight, pressure situations for this year’s varsity Mustangs.

“Sometimes these games come down to experience,” he said of Ceres finding a way to protect the slim lead down the stretch. “We’re a pretty young team.”

Oakdale opened the tournament with a 59-38 victory over Hughson on Dec. 26.

“We had a good opening round,” agreed Fields. “Austin Archuleta and Shane Baxter came out shooting well, Hughson came out in a zone and we hit seven 3’s in the first half.”

Oakdale built the solid early lead and put away the Huskies easily, getting contributions from a number of players.

On Friday, against Pitman, the Pride held a slim 16-12 lead after one quarter and steadily applied the pressure to take a 33-23 halftime advantage. Archuleta paced the Mustangs with 10 points in the first quarter, but Pitman’s experience helped them maintain the lead through the second half. The final was 52-37 in favor of the Pride. Fields noted that the Mustangs got stronger during the contest, as they had a 10-point deficit for the first two periods, only losing the second half by a total of five points in the scorebook.

The loss on Friday matched the Mustangs up with Ceres and they took the tough loss on Saturday to the Bulldogs.

“Our younger guys are learning in the fire right now,” said Fields, adding that it was a good week overall. “They are showing signs of improvement.”

Archuleta is the team’s only senior ball handler, so the underclassmen are having a bit of a learning curve as they jump into varsity action.

“The more time they get on the court, the better,” Fields added, noting that he saw solid play during the tournament from Dylan Farquhar, Nick McElmurry and Mike Baskind. “They all stepped up and played good minutes for us.”

This week, the varsity boys will be at Atwater on Thursday and then home for a rare Friday night home game hosting Tracy on Jan. 3.

Shane Baxter was named to the All-Tournament Team for Oakdale and Fields also offered a “huge thank you” for their assistance in running the event to Rotary Club member and assistant tournament director Bob Meyer, as well as teachers Guy Fowler and Eric Brink, who volunteered their time.

“I had more compliments on the tournament this year than ever, people were very pleased with how smooth it was,” Fields said.