What is this for Austin Armstead, his sixth year at Bullard? Eighth? Tenth?
Seems like it, doesn’t it?
Surely, it does to Edison’s fans, players and coaches after the left-handed senior turned a County/Metro Athletic Conference showcase into his own in the second half as the 12th-ranked Knights roared from behind to stun the No. 5 Tigers 54-51 in a regular-season finale.
“I just knew this was it — we don’t have anything else after this,” Armstead said after going scoreless in the first half before erupting for 23 in the second, including 15 in the fourth quarter, as Bullard tied Edison for the CMAC title.
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“He definitely took over the game,” said Edison coach T.J. Wilkins, whose Tigers had won 63-56 at Bullard in the league’s first round.
Bullard’s victory capped an improbable sweep before a turnaway crowd of around 1,500 as the Knights girls set the tone earlier with a 56-53 win against a third-ranked Edison team (23-3) that had beaten them three times this season — twice in tournaments and once in league.
“The girls’ confidence right now is through the roof,” coach Kaitlin Kaufmann said of Bullard, which never trailed in the game. “I think this momentum will carry over to the playoffs, especially since we have nine seniors. They don’t want every game to be their last.”
That’s surely the case for Armstead, a four-year varsity player who has Central Section Division I championship rings from his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“I’ve got those, but I want these guys to get one, too. They deserve it,” he said, pointing to his teammates as they were mobbed by fans.
Section seedings for the boys and girls basketball playoffs will be determined Saturday by commissioner Jim Crichlow’s committee in Porterville.
Then to the playoffs next week, and what a double boost for the Knights after Tuesday’s performances on a night fans had filled the parking lot and the gym by 5:30 p.m.
“I was pumped, most definitely,” said the 6-foot-3 Armstead, who hasn’t made a decision where to extend his career in college. “I knew we had to win this game; this was it. This was the one I was looking forward to all year.”
The Armstead Show began with consecutive rebound baskets in the third quarter for Bullard, which trailed then 39-25.
The Knights were behind 41-33 to begin the fourth, when Armstead found another gear — and a sensational one at that.
Scoring almost exclusively inside, he scored on a short jumper, a reverse layup and a bank shot to open the final period.
Kevin Howland-Wolaridge, who had closed the third with a buzzer-beating 3 to give Bullard life, followed Armstead’s baskets with a 3, giving the Knights a 42-41 led with 5 minutes and 54 seconds remaining.
Daemar Potts’ rebound bucket tied it for Edison, 51-51, before Armstead closed it out in the final minute with three free throws.
Braxton Hicks missed a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left for Edison, which has seeding leverage with a win over Tri-River Athletic Conference co-leader Central. Will Lee led the Tigers with 16 points.
As opposed to the boys’ comeback, Bullard’s girls never trailed.
Julia LoCastro, who was outstanding inside, scored on a three-point play to begin the game for Bullard, which led 16-6 after the first quarter.
Edison would eventually tie it, 42-42, on Addie Curtis’ 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. But the Knights secured it in the final minute on three free throws by Julia Cuellar and another by Deja Oneal.
Cuellar, a senior and one of the section’s elite point guards, finished with 12 points. She’s been playing with a separated left shoulder all season.
“Tough kid,” said Kaufmann, who also received 10 points apiece from LoCastro and Jillian Jones.
Malaya Kendrick, Mia Shannon and Curtis scored 15, 14 and 13 points for Edison.