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Gruber Gets Job Done for Ventura

Division I-A: Burly center hits clutch free throw to help Cougars defeat Katella, 52-51, in wild-card game.


VENTURA — Jason Gruber's free throw clanked against the rim and nudged the backboard before falling through the hoop, but nobody expected a pretty shot from an offensive lineman in high-tops.

Gruber's less-than-perfect free throw with nine seconds to play provided the game-winner in Ventura High's 52-51 victory over Katella in a Southern Section Division I-A wild-card playoff game Wednesday at Ventura.

Gruber, who was fouled in the post and missed the first free throw, helped the Cougars (16-12) advance to the first round. They travel to second-seeded Corona Centennial on Friday.

"I'm used to that sort of pressure," said Gruber, who was the right tackle on Ventura's section-champion football team. "Just shot it like [I] always shoot it."

Gruber, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound center, finished with 13 points, including 10 in the first half, to keep Ventura within 29-25 at halftime.

The Cougars were missing starting guard Trevor Prophet, who was ill, and reserve Bill Griffin, who had a viral infection.

Gruber's free throw overcame a dismal Ventura shooting performance. The Cougars shot 37% (six of 16) at the free-throw line and 28% (seven of 25) from three-point range.

"The way we've been shooting lately, [Gruber] is probably our best percentage free-throw shooter," Ventura Coach Dan Larson said. "That play was designed for him to take the shot or take the foul."

With the scored tied, 51-51, Ventura's Bryan Easterly fed an inside pass to Gruber, who was fouled by Katella's Chris Alva.

After Gruber missed the first shot, teammate Tyler Ebell shouted words of encouragement to him.

"I told him we were going to win right here if he hit it," Ebell said. "[Or] that we would win it in overtime if he missed it."

Ventura pulled ahead, 51-47, with 2:40 to play when Ebell, who had 16 points, hit his second three-point shot of the game.

Katella's Mike Ywakiem then made two layups, the second with 1:03 to play that tied the score.

After Gruber's free throw pulled the Cougars ahead, Ebell's intentional foul forced Katella to inbound the ball along the sideline.

The Knights worked the ball to Phillip Tyson, who led Katella with 21 points, but his five-foot jumper missed as time expired.

"They had a foul to give, and they used it well," Katella Coach Sal Glorioso said. "That was smart on [Ventura's] part."

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