Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - March 5, 2010

Good shots for titles at CCS

Sacred Heart Prep, Pinewood take aim at section crowns against top-seeded opponents

by Keith Peters

The Sacred Heart Prep and Pinewood boys' basketball programs have a history in the Central Coast Section playoffs, although not much of one.

In 1995, the Gators defeated the Panthers in the Division V finals, 51-50. In 1992, Pinewood handed SHP a 64-50 defeat.

Both teams are back in the section championships this weekend at Santa Clara University, just not in the same bracket and certainly not playing each other. Both, however, have the same goal.

That would be to add to their previous section titles. Sacred Heart Prep has won three, the most recent in 2008 under current head coach Tony Martinelli. Pinewood has won two, the first in 1987 and the second in '92.

Both teams will be in similar situations this week. The Gators and Panthers are both seeded No. 2 in their respective divisions and will be facing No. 1-seeded teams.

Sacred Heart Prep (21-5) will bring a 13-game winning streak into the CCS Division IV championship game on Friday at Santa Clara University at 4:45 p.m. The Gators' opponent, No. 1 Palma (23-3), will bring a 17-game winning streak.

"One of the streaks has to end," said Martinelli. "This is a great opportunity. We haven't won there (at Santa Clara) and would be our first Division IV title in school history."

While both teams already have qualified for the CIF NorCal playoffs that begin next Tuesday, neither is looking past Friday's showdown. Martinelli, for one, believes his team has a pretty good shot

"We've seen them a couple of times, and have a pretty good idea about them," Martinelli said. "They have a big guy inside, but they don't play much with a post presence. (But) If they get it going from the 3, they could be tough."

The main common opponent for both teams this season has been Pacific Grove. The Chieftans held on for a 58-56 on Dec. 18 while the Gators handed PG a 51-35 loss in the CCS quarterfinals last weekend.

"That's kind of interesting," Martinelli said of Palma's game with Pacific Grove. "But I think the Palma game is a big one for Pacific Grove and all the other teams down there so they always get up for them."

Menlo School is the other common opponent. Sacred Heart handled the Knights easily in two WBAL games this season while Palma beat Menlo in the CCS quarterfinals, 53-43. Thus, SHP certainly won't be in over its head on Friday.

Sacred Heart Prep advanced to its third CCS championship game since 2006 with a thrilling 55-54 victory over No. 3 seed Santa Cruz (19-10) on Tuesday night at Hartnell College in Salinas.

"It's tough when you play a team three times," said Martinelli, whose team beat the Cardinals twice in December. "We knew they had some film on us."

Santa Cruz played man-to-man defense the last time the teams met. This time the Cardinals played a 2-3 zone that collapsed on SHP's interior players, most notably Ty Cobb.

"They were really focused on him," Martinelli said of Cobb, who had 16 rebounds in the previous game. Against Santa Cruz, however, he rarely got his hands on the ball and thus one key offensive component for SHP was removed.

With the focus on the inside, Sacred Heart sophomore Cole McConnell came off the bench for five 3-pointers and a career-high 17 points.

Sacred Heart grabbed a five-point halftime lead but trailed by one entering the final period after scoring just six points in the third. The Gators trailed by two points with seven seconds to play when junior Reed McConnell hit a three-pointer from NBA range to give SHP a one-point lead.

With four seconds left, Santa Cruz called a time out. The Cardinals had to go the length of the floor to score, but didn't get a shot off.

Sacred Heart played without three key players — Spencer Rosekrans, Cal Baloff and Zach Watterson. All were out with injuries. All three are key players, especially late in the game when the Gators need to press. Martinelli believes all three will be ready for Friday's championship game.

Boys' Division V

Pinewood advanced to the CCS finals for the first time in 14 years with a 53-45 semifinal victory over No. 3 Marina (16-11) on Wednesday at Los Altos Hills. The No. 2-seeded Panthers (19-6) will face No. 1 St. Francis-Central Coast Catholic (26-1) in the section title game on Saturday at Santa Clara University at noon. St. Francis-CCC advanced with an 81-50 romp over No. 4 St. Tomas More.

"Marina was unbelievably athletic and scrappy and they fought hard," said Pinewood coach Jason Peery. "I'm proud of our guys who made a huge breakthrough tonight for our school. It's been a long time and I'm so impressed with the poise they keep showing and they way they're executing down the stretch in close games."

Pinewood started with a dismal 1-for-15 shooting but rallied with a 20-point third quarter to take a lead it never surrendered. Senior Max Lippe led Pinewood with 23 points and 15 rebounds. Kyle Riches, who returned last game from a broken hand that had sidelined him for most of league play, started slowly but provided 11 second-half points and shutdown defense on Marina's leading scorer, Thor Wiles. He was held to four points on 1-of-5 shooting in the second half.

Pinewood's man-to-man defense held Marina to 8-of-26 shooting in the second half with no three pointers.

Division II

If the Mitty boys' basketball team was still smarting from those back-to-back losses to Palo Alto in the 2005 and '06 Central Coast Section championship games, well, the Monarchs certainly got some payback for them.

Second-seeded Mitty dominated in all facets of the game while rolling to a 62-39 victory over the No. 3 Vikings in a CCS Division II semifinal on Tuesday at Foothill College.

"They thoroughly outplayed us," said Paly coach Bob Roehl. "When you get outplayed like that, you have to give the other team credit."

Palo Alto (19-7) had only 11 points in the first half and turned the ball over 10 times during that time as Mitty (19-9) made a statement that it is a team to be reckoned with now, and in the future as the Monarchs return four starters next season.

Mitty advances to Friday's section championship game against No. 1 seed St. Francis (26-2) at Santa Clara University at 8:30 p.m.

It was evident from the start that Palo Alto was going to be in for a long night as the Vikings had difficulty just getting off a good shot while never getting a second-shot opportunity as Mitty swept the boards.

"We thought we could drive and get some fouls, but we couldn't," said Roehl, who watched his team go without a field goal the entire second quarter.

The Monarchs, meanwhile, either made their first shot or followed misses in while racing to a 32-11 halftime lead. That effectively ended Palo Alto's hopes of an upset. In the second quarter, the Vikings had more turnovers (seven) than points (four).

What did those 11 points mean to Roehl?

"That we get beaten by a lot," he said.

The Vikings righted their sinking ship in the second half and played the Monarchs fairly evenly — Mitty held only a 30-25 scoring advantage. The Monarchs pulled four of their starters to begin the fourth quarter, but Paly rallied to trim its significant deficit to 47-29, forcing Mitty to return its starters to the floor.

Mitty's talented 6-foot-6 freshman Aaron Gordon (brother of former Mitty standout Drew) threw down his second dunk with 4:01 left to play for a 56-30 lead, the Monarchs' biggest of the game.

Despite the lopsided loss, Roehl thought his team's second-half performance better represented the program than in the first half.

"We played the second half to compete," he said. "And we did. We played like Paly basketball should play, so I'm very proud."

Roehl was emotional as he spoke those words, tears welling up in his eyes. He took over the team six games into the season and pretty much started from scratch. He had to get to know his players and somehow meld them into a team in a very short time.

He did just that. After taking some lumps early, the Vikings battled their way to am 11-1 record during their championship run in the SCVAL De Anza Division. As the season progressed, the Vikings got better and followers began making comparisons to this team and the 2006 squad that won the CIF Division II state title.

Roehl was an assistant coach in '06 and made a large impact on those players. His presence this season also was felt as the Vikings played unselfishly and like a team. The squad came a long way in a short time, thus Roehl was moved by the sudden end to the season on Tuesday.

Mitty simply had more talent, more quicknesss and more firepower. The Monarchs shot well and dominated the boards. To the Vikings' credit, they never gave up.

Palo Alto junior Davante Adams led his team with nine points while senior Joseph Lin added seven. Gordon paced Mitty with 14 points and 16 rebounds while Stephen Meade, Mitty's only senior starter, also had 14 points. The Monarchs improved to 48-19 all-time in CCS play, tying Palo Alto (48-24) for third place for most all-time section victories. The No. 1 boys' team all-time is Riordan (74-18) while St. Francis is second (58-14).

Five Palo Alto seniors walked off the court Tuesday — Brendan Rider, Niklas Wahlberg, Steven Kerr, Kevin Brown and Lin. The Vikings will return six — Adams, Max Schmarzo, Bill Gray, Tori Prati, Charlie Jones and freshman E.J. Floreal. It's a solid group, certainly something for Roehl to work with next season.

The Vikings, however, know that Mitty may be even better next season. The future was on the floor for both teams Tuesday night.

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