By Joe Davidson
The Franklin Wildcats trailed 12-0 out of the gates, called time out and then....woke up.
Playing inspired and with cohesion in gaining an even deeper measure of trust from the coaches, the Wildcats of Elk Grove stormed back against Freedom of Oakley of the North Coast Section to take their first lead at 43-41 on a Kyle Ford layup and never looked back, winning 53-46 in the opener of the four-game Father Kelly Tribute at Jesuit on Saturday afternoon.
Ranked No. 7 by The Bee, Franklin improved to 11-4 in halting a two-game losing streak. The Wildcats now bound into Delta Valley Conference play next week as the clear favorites. Under coach Jesse Formaker, the Wildcats are four-time defending league champions.
Saturday's effort included the slow start, a meeting of the minds and plenty of earned coach-player trust. Specifically, Formaker listened to leaders such as Arieas Toney, who suggested going to a zone defense. That ploy helped stall the Falcons, who came in at 11-3, including wins over Monterey Trail and Laguna Creek and a 61-56 loss to Burbank. Franklin had a 16-4 run to seize control, and the Wildcats prevailed with one of their star players sidelined with illness in junior guard Darrin Johnson.
"They wanted to go to a zone and we did," Formaker said. "It's their team. I really like our group of kids. They're capable of achieving great things."
Formaker said he likes playing out-of-section opponents, all the better to get a playoff feel on the eve of conference play with a neutral court, unfamiliar locker rooms and more. And the coach couldn't contain his grin.
"I'm more pleased with this game than any we've played all season because it was a team effort," he said. "We as coaches took a step back and let the boys step up."
Senior standout forward Theo Johnson had 13 points and senior captain leader Kelton Newman, a wing, had 12 points, including cool free throw shooting down the stretch, making five. Victor Rustin had nine and Shikabe Aziz six for Franklin.
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