Through three quarters Monday night, the Fremont Firebirds and Saratoga Falcons looked like they would go down to the final horn.
The Firebirds held a slim 11-8 advantage after the first quarter.
At halftime, the Falcons were up two at 31-29.
After three quarters the Falcons increased their lead by just two points, taking a four-point cushion into the fourth quarter at 47-43.
Neither team led by more than four between the midpoint of the second quarter and end of the third. All signs pointed to the same back-and-forth play in the final quarter.
Unfortunately for Fremont fans, the Falcons came out flying in the fourth and the Firebirds fell flat. Saratoga drained a three on the first possession of the quarter and ended up building an 11-point advantage at 54-43.
Not having scored a single point midway through the fourth, things looked bleak for the Firebirds. However, led by brothers Dev Chatha and Aman Chatha, the Firebirds would not quit.
An inbound pass to Zade Aufang and subsequent layup pulled Fremont within nine. Moments later, a strong passing sequence set up Dev Chatha with a layup to pull within seven.
After a key block on defense by Aufang and then a backcourt violation forced by the Fremont defense, the Firebirds got the ball back. Again, Dev Chatha would get a bucket to cut the deficit to five.
Saratoga would finally put an end to Fremont’s 6-0 run with a wide-open, fast-break layup off a turnover to go back up seven with 1:21 remaining. A clutch three from Fremont’s Shota Xu with 1:09 brought the deficit back within four.
Having to foul to give themselves a chance, Fremont was at the mercy of Saratoga. Two free throws put the Falcons back up six points at 58-52. While Aufang would come right back with two free throws at the other end to pull back within four at 58-54, those would be the last points the Firebirds would score.
Saratoga would end up winning by a final of 64-54.
“We always work on our press break, but I definitely feel like the pressure got to us,” remarked senior Dev Chatha. “I don’t think we were used to how physical they were, that’s something we definitely have to work on.”
“I thought we turned the ball over quite a bit, got a little spread out. That’s what they do. They try to speed you up,” chimed Fremont Head Coach Tony Kikuta. “They are a good team. I think we just have to be a little better in our execution moving forward.”
When the Firebirds were executing well, it was in large part due to the all around play from Dev Chatha and the outside shooting of Aman Chatha. The latter missed his first two three-point attempts, but then drained three in a row. The former was a force all night, scoring tough inside layups, dropping in mid-range fadeaways and scoring from beyond the arc.
“I’ve been coaching in the SCVAL for eight years and certainly in the last five years I think [Dev Chatha] is the best player in both the upper and lower divisions,” praised coach Kikuta. “To his credit, he has really worked hard on his game and gotten better every year. He’s elite.”