By Bill Paterson
It's tough to play a rival a third time.
So even with a 25-2 lead midway in the second quarter, the Center High boys had to sweat a little in their Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal tonight against Foothill at Cosumnes River College.
Second-seeded Center withstood a valiant comeback try by the sixth-seeded Mustangs before prevailing 66-54. Foothill twice closed to within eight points in the fourth quarter, including with 4:06 left to play.
But Center made enough free throws down the stretch to move into Friday's 9 p.m. championship showdown with top-seeded Sacramento, the two-time D-III defending champs, at Power Balance Pavilion.
For Center, senior forward Chad Haysbert led the way with 20 points. Chris Smith added 14. Michael Bryson had 19 and Fidel Cadenas 13 for Foothill.
Center (24-6) and Foothill (21-9) are long-time neighborhood foes, even after realignment moved them into the Pioneer Valley League this season.
For a long time it was a one-sided rivaly when both were in the Capital Valley Conference.
But that ended last season when the Cougars twice beat Foothill in league, ending a 10-year drought. Center did it again this season.
Last year was a breakthrough season for the Cougars, who not only won the CVC but compiled an impressive 28-4 record under coach Ray Gagnon.
But they were denied a chance to play for the section title game at then-Arco Aena on the very same Cosumnes River College floor in which they won tonight.
They lost a memorable 69-66 triple-overtime heartbreaker to Vista del Lago.