Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - February 12, 2010

SHP gets into the spirit

Gators overcome week of crazy activities to stay atop WBAL

by Keith Peters

This has been Spirit Week at Sacred Heart Prep, when everything shuts down and students take part in competitions among the classes.

For Sacred Heart Prep boys' basketball coach Tony Martinelli, Spirit Week is more of a Hell Week.

"The kids lose their minds," Martinelli said as he summed up the activities leading up to, and including, Spirit Week. "The whole week, there's nothing getting done — except the kids concentrating on their competitions. They wear themselves out . . . it's like this every year."

Martinelli, in his sixth year at the school, said it's just another element of being a coach at Sacred Heart Prep.

"When the schedule comes out each year, I always look at who we're playing during this week. If we're at home, it's not too bad. If we're on the road, it's a little bit of an adventure."

The Gators will be at home on Friday night to play Eastside Prep at 6:30 p.m. A handful of the players are battling various illnesses that Martinelli believes can be traced to the Spirit Week activities.

Illnesses aside, the SHP players have to be ready and on guard. They come into the game riding an eight-game winning streak and leading the West Bay Athletic League with a 10-1 record (16-5 overall). While only three games remain in the regular season, there is no room to slip up. The Gators' lead is only one game over second-place Harker (9-2, 17-4).

After Friday's games, Sacred Heart will host Crystal Springs (2-9) and King's Academy (5-6) to wrap things up.

"It kind of keeps it in our hands," Martinelli said of the impending title. "With three games left at home, it's a good situation. We haven't won a league title since 2006, so the guys are focusing on taking that next step."

Sacred Heart took a big step toward the title by beating host Pinewood on Tuesday, 59-48. The Panthers came in just a game back of SHP, were playing at home and still smarting from a bad loss to the Gators last month.

"I knew Pinewood was good and our health situation had me on edge," Martinelli said. "And playing in their gym is never easy. We didn't win there last year."

The other problem was that junior Reed McConnell, the team's leading scorer, was sick with a sinus infection.

"But, he knew how important the game was," Martinelli said. "Just having him on the floor meant Pinewood had to pay attention to him."

McConnell scored just two points in the first half and finished with nine, but made four free throws during an 8-0 run to close out the game and the Panthers (8-3, 15-5), who fell to third place.

Sacred Heart trailed at halftime, 28-24, and was still down at 35-30 before Martinelli made a lineup change that clicked. With reserves Zach Watterson, Pat McNamara and Cal Baloff on the floor with starters Colin Terndrup and Will McConnell, the Gators' fullcourt press began to work and the game changed quickly.

The Gators went on a 14-0 run as Baloff scored seven of his 10 points. One three-point play came when he drove to the basket and, realizing he was going to get fouled, turned his back and flipped a two-handed shot over his head. The ball went in and Baloff made the free throw for a 40-35 lead.

Martinelli said the group that made the difference had never played together before.

"We've never even put that team on the floor in practice," Martinelli explained. It says what a different team we can be."

It also says the Gators are as deep as they are tall, with eight players standing 6-foot-2 or taller. Most important, Martinelli apparently can go to his bench and put together various combinations that will work.

Another team in a similar situation is Palo Alto. The Vikings, too, can control their own destiny in the SCVAL De Anza Division race after rolling over visiting Los Altos on Wednesday night, 62-51.

The Vikings improved to 8-1 in league (15-6 overall) and remained in first place after securing their eighth straight win. The third-place Eagles fell to 6-4 (15-7). Paly received a big boost from Homestead, which handed second-place Los Gatos (7-3, 18-4) a 65-64 defeat. It was the second time the Mustangs have beaten the Wildcats this season.

With only three games remaining in the regular season, the Vikings can clinch no worse than a tie for the division title by beating host Homestead on Friday night (7 p.m.). Should that happen, Palo Alto can claim the title outright next Wednesday by beating visiting Fremont (7 p.m.). If Paly continues to play as it did in the first half of Wednesday's game, it's a done deal.

"The defense was outstanding in the first half as was the passing and shooting (seven made 3's)," said Paly coach Bob Roehl, whose team held Los Altos to just 14 points in the first two periods. "Kevin Brown's defense and rebounding ignited the fast break, which created the scoring opportunities."

Brown also scored 16 points to pace Paly while Brendan Rider added 13 and Max Schmarzo had 12, all coming on three-pointers. Los Altos made a great comeback behind Spencer Wells, who scored 16 for the game and nine in the fourth quarter when Los Altos outscored Paly 23-10. The Vikings, however, held a 40-14 halftime lead, thanks to their hot shooting that resulted in a 26-2 run at one point as the Eagles missed nine straight shots in the second quarter.

In other highlights this week:

In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton followed up its shocking one-point win over previously unbeaten Burlingame last Friday with a 45-34 win over visiting Terra Nova on Wednesday. The Bears (5-4, 13-10) won their third straight as Nils Gilbertson scored 17 points and Jeff Keller added 16.

In the WBAL, Menlo School moved into a tie for fourth place in the WBAL with a 55-51 victory over host Eastside Prep on Tuesday. The Knights (5-6, 7-14) got a career-high 30 points from 6-foot-6 junior Richard Harris, who also grabbed 11 rebounds in his standout effort.

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