The top-seeded Gators had erased a first-half deficit and were finishing up a 35-point third quarter on the way to a 61-point second half and 78-39 triumph over the No. 4 Padres, who weren't too happy with how things were turning out.
With about 25 seconds left in the third period and following three steals by the Gators, things got rough. A Carmel player, evidently frustrated by the turn of events, dished out a hard foul to SHP senior Will McConnell.
A brief tussle ensued, during which Sacred Heart senior Reed McConnell, Will's twin, left the bench to help his brother. Reed was hit with a technical foul and then ejected.
As McConnell departed, perhaps so did the Gators' hopes for a possible appearance in the CIF Division IV state championship game.
"At this point," said SHP coach Tony Martinelli, "it looks like we will be playing without Reed."
According to CCS bylaws, any player ejected from any CCS playoff contest because of flagrant misconduct or unsportsmanlike behavior shall e excluded from participating in the remainder of the playoff contests in that sport during that season and his/her team shall be subject to further sanctioning, as deemed appropriate by the CCS Commissioner.
Not only will Reed McConnell miss Friday's CCS Division IV championship game against No. 2 Santa Cruz at Santa Clara University (4:45 p.m.), but apparently he'll be sidelined for the CIF NorCal playoffs, as well.
"Hopefully, that will not be the case," said Martinelli. "It would be a pretty severe penalty for a kid that loves the game as much as he does and has worked so hard."
The rules, however, apparently say McConnell is done for the season.
"As a CCS member school, CCS players and teams are subject to CCS bylaws throughout the entire season, whether they are playing CCS member schools or schools from outside the CCS," said Steve Filios, an assistant CCS commissioner and former head boys' basketball coach at St. Francis High. "The membership of the CCS has adopted this rule. Because violation of the rule carries severe sanctions, every principal (or his or her designee) has been required in all sports to review these rules prior to the start of the CCS playoffs. This rule is also reviewed with the team captains and coaches prior to each playoff game."
"It is a CCS decision and one that we have to respect," said Martinelli. "The only tough thing was, it was a pretty dirty play and it was committed on his brother. I believe that Reed's emotions got the best of him and he went out on the court. To his credit, he didn't get involved in any altercation and went back to the bench."
With the 6-foot-5 McConnell sidelined, the Gators lose their No. 1 three-point shooter (51 made), No. 2 scorer (14.6 ppg), No. 2 free-throw shooter (72-for-90) and No. 2 assist man (62).
While Sacred Heart Prep will miss those statistical advantages and McConnell's veteran experience, the strength of this season's team has been its depth.
"Our depth has been the key to our success all year," Martinelli said. "So, guys like Cal Baloff, Pat McNamara and Zach Watterson will have to keep playing well."
The 6-4 McNamara, 6-3 Baloff and 6-3 Watterson all come off the bench but have played a great deal in the Gators' fast-paced offense. They have combined for 12.7 ppg, 33 three-pointers and 72 assists.
The remaining starters are the 6-6 Will McConnell (15.5 ppg, 6.7 rebounds per game), 6-5 Tomas O'Donnell (5.6 ppg), 6-4 Cole McConnell (8.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), and Colin Terndrup (8.4 ppg, 2.9 assists). Six of the seven are seniors, with Cole McConnell the only junior.
The Gators (24-2), riding a 20-game winning streak, will have a considerable height advantage over the No. 2 Cardinals (21-6), who eliminated No. 3 Palma in Tuesday's other semifinal at Menlo School, 76-52. Michael Adams is the tallest Santa Cruz player at 6-4.
"Santa Cruz isn't as big, but they are extremely deep," said Martinelli. "They shoot the 3 well and press and trap. We both feel more comfortable with the game in the 60s and 70s. I really think the winning team will be the one that presses well and plays solid half-court defense."
Sacred Heart didn't do that until the second half in its win over Carmel (21-5) on Tuesday. The Gators spent the first half trying to figure out Carmel's 1-3-1 zone, which the Gators hadn't seen much this season. SHP missed nine of its first 10 shots and trailed by as much as 17-9.
What the Gators lacked in the first half — pressing, forcing turnovers and scoring — they gained big time after intermission as their defense sparked the turnaround. The Gators shot 75 percent from the floor in the third period to blow the game open.
Martinelli credited assistant coach Dan Coffey for firing up the Gators at halftime.
"He even controlled himself enough to come up with a better way to attack the 1-3-1. I think it's tough for a team to do something they don't do all the time. If Santa Cruz can put that in and execute it in the next two days, I would be very impressed. I do think we learned a lot about playing against it."
Will and Cole McConnell each scored 18 points for the Gators while Baloff added 13.
Sacred Heart Prep heads into its title defense against a Santa Cruz that lost three times to the Gators last season, including a 55-54 loss in the CCS semifinals.
CCS Division V
Top-seeded Pinewood and No. 3-seeded Mid-Peninsula will meet for the first time ever in a section final when the local squads play Saturday at Santa Clara University at noon. The winner will host a CIF NorCal playoff game Tuesday at 7 p.m., while the runnerup will have to travel.
The two advanced from Wednesday night's semifinals at St. Francis-Central Coast Catholic in Watsonville in different fashion.
In the opener, Pinewood went on a 31-13 run to finish the game during a 59-39 triumph over No. 4 Crystal Springs (13-13). Junior Solomone Wolfgramm had 16 points and 14 rebounds while Dante Fraioli added 19 points, three steals and two assists. The Panthers grabbed 22 offensive rebounds and held the Gryphons to 25 percent shooting, including 19 percent from three-point range, in what amounted to a rematch of the team's two West Bay Athletic League games that Pinewood also won.
Pinewood grabbed a 28-15 halftime lead before Crystal cut the deficit to just two, just three minutes into the third quarter, on a flurry of three-pointers by junior Andrew Lim. Fraioli responded with a pair of threes and Pinewood never looked back.
Pinewood will be looking to win its first CCS title since 1996 against explosive Mid-Peninsula, which had to go into overtime before holding off defending champion St. Francis-CCC, 68-65, to reach its first-ever CCS title game.
The host and No. 2-seeded Sharks (16-11) made a halfcourt shot with 1.3 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.
"After they made that shot, we could have fallen apart," said Mid-Peninsula coach Curtis Haggins.
The Dragons, however, didn't. They opened the extra frame with a layup before hitting nine free throws to hold off the hometown team. Senior Lydell Cardwell provided the winning points on two charity tosses and finished with 31 points while Reggie Williams added 18.
Haggins believes his team has a chance Saturday if the Dragons can keep Wolfgramm off the boards.
"And we have to rebound," Haggins said. "I'm sure they'll try to take Cardwell out of the game. Cardwell can get 30-40 (points) a game if he wants."
Mid-Peninsula, however, will be the underdog, which is fine with Haggins.
"Anything can happen," he said. "Our toughest (CCS) game was against a 7-18 Eastside Prep team. It's hard to beat a team with nothing to lose.
"I'm proud of these kids," added Haggins. "We're just enjoying the ride."
CCS Division II
Fourth-seeded Palo Alto was held scoreless in the second quarter and had just 12 points in the first half in its showdown with top-seeded Mitty. The second half was a little better for the Vikings, but not enough as they saw their season end in a 61-39 setback in the semifinals at Foothill College on Tuesday.
The Monarchs (27-2) ended the Vikings' 2010 season in similar fashion, 62-39.
Like in last season's loss, Paly (19-7) had no inside game to answer the talents of Mitty's 6-foot-8 sophomore Aaron Gordon, who had 11 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks and held Paly's 6-3 standout sophomore E.J. Floreal to just three points.
Mitty grabbed a 32-12 halftime lead after holding the Vikings scoreless in the second period. Paly bounced back with 20 points in the third period as seniors Davante Adams (13 points) and Max Schmarzo (11) contributed to the comeback.
The loss ended the prep careers of Paly seniors Bill Gray, Charlie Jones, T.J. Braff, Schmarzo and Adams. The Vikings will return seven players off this team, including Alec Wong, Israel Hakim and Floreal.