Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - February 21, 2014

Pinewood boys grab momentum for CCS hoops with WBAL title

by Keith Peters

It really looked like the West Bay Athletic League boys basketball race was going to end up in a tie between Sacred Heart Prep and Pinewood. Both teams entered this week with only one loss each and two very winnable games on their schedule.

However, this is the last week of the regular season and the Central Coast Section playoffs are looming next week. Thus, desperation can set in for teams on the bubble and anything can happen. On Tuesday night, anything did.

On a night that began with Pinewood and Sacred Heart Prep tied for first place, it ended with the Panthers moving into sole possession of the top spot with a 54-52 victory over visiting Priory.

Meanwhile, Sacred Heart Prep was being upset at home by Harker, 71-65, knocking the Gators into second place with just one game remaining.

"Not sure that it was a surprise, because both those teams (SHP and Harker) are tough teams and are very well-coached," said Pinewood coach Mani Messy. "Our league records don't mean much. Anybody can beat anyone, especially as we near the end of the season where every team is trying to make one last push to improve their season."

Priory was doing just that against Pinewood as the teams swapped the lead throughout. Pinewood finally moved in front when junior Ryan Brice hit a 3-pointer with just over a minute to play.

Priory missed on a few last-second possessions and Pinewood held on for the victory, improving to 12-1 in league (20-3 overall) with only last night's game at Harker standing in the way of the outright WBAL title.

"Our team takes it one game at a time," Messy said. "After we play our last game on Thursday, whatever the outcome is, we will assess it then shortly and try and look ahead to our next challenge in the postseason.

"I am very proud of my team this year. They have worked extremely hard and a league title would be deserving for all their hard work. But, in my mind, they deserve more."

That would be a CCS title. Pinewood has won the past three crowns, last year under Messy in his first season and the other two under Jason Peery. The Panthers also played in the 2010 title game, losing to St. Francis-Central Coast Catholic.

"I'm not sure yet about (our) CCS seeding and will find out Sunday," Messy said. "I think our body of work would suggest that (a No. 1 seed), but you never know."

Brice finished with 17 points while Greg Naumann led the way with 18. Priory senior Connor Bonfiglio led all scorers with 21 points. Scott Harris added 15 points for Priory, his final four giving his team a 52-51 lead.

In Atherton, SHP lost a share of first place with its upset loss to Harker. The Gators fell to 11-2 and 16-7 after the Eagles poured in on in the third quarter. Sophomore Mason Randall led the Gators with 15 points while James McLean added 13.

"(We) Shot the ball poorly and in the second half combined that with not getting back on 'D' and giving up way too many transition hoops," said SHP coach Tony Martinelli. "Poor effort from the Gators. Disappointing way to lose a league title . . . at home . . . giving up 71 points."

In Sunnyvale, Menlo School pulled off a winner in another nail-biter while topping King's Academy, 53-48, in WBAL action. Four of the Knights' past five games have been decided by five points or less. With one game left, defending league champ Menlo improved to 9-4 in league and 10-13 overall.

Menlo and Kings were knotted at 48 with 2:30 left in the game. Guard Bobby Roth sank a big 3-pointer and Menlo jumped ahead with about a minute left.

"It was a gutsy performance towards the end," Menlo coach Delandro Leday said. "Bobby's shot was big as we've dedicated some time to improving our shooting . . . since our loss to Pinewood."

Menlo jumped out to a 20-6 lead after the first period, with Ryan Young getting seven of his 14 points in that quarter.

"The first quarter was probably our best basketball this season as we moved the ball and just played with a level of energy that I knew we were capable," Leday said.

Roth scored a team-high 17 and had four steals. Wes Miller added 13 on 4-of-6 shooting, along with a team-high eight rebounds. Young also contributed five rebounds, four assists and four steals.

On Wednesday, Palo Alto's possible shot at winning the SCVAL De Anza Division title disappeared in a 54-47 loss to host Homestead. The Vikings (7-4, 13-10) needed a victory to remain a game back of first-place Los Altos with one game remaining. Now, Paly is two back of the Eagles (9-2), who clinched the division crown with a 56-52 win at Los Gatos.

Seniors Keesean Johnson and Noah Phillips combined for 29 points for Paly, which plays host to Los Gatos on Friday night at 7:45 p.m. The Vikings need a victory to clinch third place and an automatic Central Coast Section playoff berth. Otherwise, Paly could fall into a tie for third with Homestead, which help the Vikings to just four points in the third quarter on Wednesday.

In the SCVAL El Camino Division, Gunn continued to struggle following a 54-45 loss to host Monta Vista in Cupertino. Junior Chris Russell was the lone bright spot for the Titans (4-7, 12-11) with 26 points.

Girls

Castilleja's school-record 10-game win streak came to an end on Tuesday evening in downtown San Jose with a 55-47 loss at Notre Dame-SJ in the second round of the WBAL tournament.

The Gators (17-9) were playing their eighth game in two weeks and it showed, as they looked a half- step slow in all phases of the game.

Castilleja never led and trailed, 21-18, at the half and 39-36 after three quarters. But, thanks to 12 second-half points from both Yasmeen Afifi and Paige Vermeer, the Gators finally pulled even at 41 late in the fourth quarter.

The Regents answered with a pair of threes, and Castilleja could get no closer when NDSJ converted last-minute free throws. Afifi finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, and now has over 600 boards in her career. Vermeer added 13 points and seven boards along with four assists — despite being saddled with four fouls for the third straight game.

In the SCVAL De Anza Division, senior Camille Steger scored 12 points and Gunn improved to 6-5 in the division (7-7 overall) with a 48-42 victory over host Mountain View on Tuesday night. Zoe Zwerling added 11 points and fellow senior Sarah Longyear contributed 10. The Titans wrap up their regular season on Friday by hosting first-place Wilcox on Senior Night at 6:15 p.m.

The Chargers improved to 11-0 in the division with a 53-34 win over visiting Palo Alto (5-6, 11-11) Freshman Lauren Koyama hit a trio of 3-points to lead the Vikings with nine points. Paly wraps up its regular season on Friday night at home against Los Gatos at 6:15 p.m.

On Wednesday, The Peninsula Athletic League playoffs opened and closed for Menlo-Atherton as the Bears fell to top seed Westmoor, 48-38, in Daly City.

The Rams were undefeated in the PAL North Division this season at 12-0 while the Bears were 8-4 in the PAL South.

Both teams came out strong offensively in the first quarter, but the game quickly settled into a defensive battle. In the second quarter, M-A broke out to a 26-20 lead on six points from senior captain Emma Heath, but the Rams came back and took a 30-28 halftime lead.

In the third period, M-A freshman post Ofa Sili scored five of her 14 points but it was not enough as the Rams increased their lead to five points. In the fourth quarter, the Westmoor defense held the Bears (16-9) to three points — all from Sili — while the Rams (17-6) made their free throws and put the game away.

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