By Matt Kawahara
As the clock drained into its final minutes, a raucous Pleasant Grove student section began chanting: "Ar-co! Ar-co!"
The official name of the building may have changed, but a trip to the arena still means the same thing. For the first time in its brief history, the Pleasant Grove boys basketball team on Friday night punched a ticket to Power Balance Pavilion and the semifinals of the Division I playoffs.
Sixth-seeded Pleasant Grove defeated No. 3 seed Franklin, 63-54, in front of a packed house at Franklin High in Elk Grove and will play No. 2 seed Jesuit in next Wednesday's semifinal.
"It still hasn't sunk in right now," said Pleasant Grove coach John DePonte. "Feels great for Cody Demps and Caleb Jackson, guys who have been three-year varsity players for us. Just proud of all our boys in our program trying to take that next step."
Franklin had knocked Pleasant Grove out of the playoffs in each of the last two years.
But it was Pleasant Grove (23-5) that pulled away this time with a balanced performance on offense and a late third-quarter run.
"We know a lot of people on the Franklin team, it's a cool little rivalry we've got going," said Demps, also a football standout in the fall. "So it was definitely a sweet victory tonight."
Demps scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Pleasant Grove, which also received an all-around night from junior Colfax Nordquist. Nordquist finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks.
Malik Thames added 11 points and D.J. Dunn and Matthew Hayes each scored eight for Pleasant Grove.
Standout senior Theo Johnson and team captain Kelton Newman led Franklin with 17 points each. Darin Johnson added 11 points for Franklin (22-6), the Delta Valley League champions.
"I told the boys, right now you're disappointed, but what happens on the scoreboard doesn't define what you are, doesn't define your season," said Franklin coach Jesse Formaker. "The other thing I told our seniors, they've got no reason to hang their heads. We've got four straight league banners, those guys have been a part of a championship every year they've been here."
Franklin led 25-24 at halftime and 31-29 with 4:22 left in the third quarter. But after the athletic, 6-foot-6 Theo Johnson picked up his fourth foul with 4:22 left in the third and went to the bench, Pleasant Grove went on a 10-2 run, often going inside to Demps and Dunn for buckets.
"We got into the paint a lot and kept trying to force the referees to make some calls," DePonte said. "When Theo went out we just kept doing more of the same. ... Without him there it opened things up a little more."
Johnson tried to lead Franklin back in the fourth quarter, making a three-pointer and driving layup on consecutive possessions at one point, but Pleasant Grove kept a poised hold on its lead.
Johnson fouled out with 2:29 left in the game. As he left the court, the Franklin student section led an ovation for the senior and Formaker greeted him with a hug at the Franklin bench.