lack of power
for Palo Alto
Vikings overcome distractions and roll
to their first championship since 2007
When a small plane crashed into a neighborhood in East Palo Alto on Wednesday morning and knocked out power to the City of Palo Alto, the hope of the Palo Alto boys' basketball team hosting its Senior Night was left in the dark.
As the players wandered from one dark classroom to another during the day-long power outage, the players wondered if they would have a chance to host Fremont at 7 p.m., honor the team's five seniors on Senior Night and, most likely, clinch the program's first SCVAL De Anza Division title since 2007 on their home floor.
"We were hoping it wouldn't be postponed," said Paly senior Joseph Lin. "We were really ready to play . . . being home is always special."
The power was still out at 5 p.m., it was looking like the game would be postponed — thus forcing the Vikings to wait until Friday to clinch on the road at Wilcox. Forty-five minutes later, however, the power was back at Palo Alto High and the game was on.
That was a good thing for Palo Alto, but not so good for Fremont.
With all five seniors starting the game, the Vikings ran the Firebirds ragged. Paly raced to a 25-point halftime lead and coasted to a 65-19 triumph, its ninth straight.
Palo Alto coach Bob Roehl was pleased with the effort and the result, especially given the day's distractions.
"It shows the growth of our team," he said. "Dealing with the power outage, Senior Night, the changes in our lineup — a lot of changes. I was very impressed with how they handled it."
Roehl admitted to being concerned by how the day would affect his players. When he walked into the locker room before the game, he looked around and saw a bunch of loose kids.
"They showed me that they were ready, so I just left them alone to have fun," Roehl said.
Roehl has been good about knowing when to reign in the players and when to let them loose. That's why his team has grown so closely together and responded to the challenges this season.
"It's a lot more fun and relaxed," said senior Kevin Brown, a four-year varsity player and the only link to the 2007 league championship team. "When he (Roehl) took over, we didn't have any captains. We didn't feel a sense of support for the (previous) coach. Everybody was confused. But, the team stuck together (under Roehl). We feel he has made us more of a team, instead of individuals. He knows how to win and it translates over to us."
Roehl previously coached under Peter Diepenbrock on the 2005-06 state championship team. Roehl made an impact with that group, as well. That team featured Jeremy Lin. The current squad has Jeremy's brother Joseph, a senior.
While the talent level of the two squads is vastly different, there are similar in the fact both play(ed) hard and together as an unselfish unit. Teamwork is everything.
"Everyone is comfortable playing for him," Joseph Lin said of Roehl, who brought his son, Lance, on as an assistant coach.
The teamwork was evident Wednesday as the Vikings (10-1, 17-6) showed no loss of power on the floor while making Fremont look like a JV team. Roehl went with his seniors for obvious reasons and that group responded by grabbing a 12-2 lead thanks to Brendan Rider's buzzer-beating three-pointer. Fremont couldn't penetrate Paly's zone, had a hard time just getting off a shot and didn't get its first points until just 1:25 remained in the quarter.
In the second quarter, Paly got three straight treys from juniors Max Schmarzo and Davante Adams plus Rider for a 26-11 lead. Schmarzo also hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Vikings a comfortable 33-7 halftime lead. Paly's fullcourt press disrupted the Firebirds with 6-foot-3 junior Charlie Jones and Lin capitalizing on the press with back-to-back steals and layins at one point.
Paly's five seniors — Niklas Wahlberg, Kevin Brown, Steven Kerr, Lin and Rider combined for 36 points. Rider and Jones both scored 12 points to lead a balanced and unselfish scoring attack. The Vikings will close their regular season on Friday at winless Wilcox with a title already in hand.
"This is what their goal was, and they were able to attain it," Roehl said of the title. "Now, it's over. After the Wilcox game, we'll sit down on Saturday and get a new goal for this group."
Palo Alto was eliminated in the second round of the Central Coast Section playoffs last season and failed to make their a year earlier after forfeiting 11 games due to an ineligible player. Thus, there's plenty of room for improvement this postseason and Palo Alto has the staying power to make things happen.
Gunn, however, didn't make things happen on Wednesday. The Titans decided against moving their final home game to Sunnyvale to face Homestead, thus postponing the contest until Saturday. Gunn (3-7, 10-12) will host the Mustangs on Saturday at 5:30 p.m., after visiting Fremont on Friday.
In boys' basketball action on Tuesday night:
Sacred Heart Prep clinched no worse than a tie for the West Bay Athletic League championship with a 61-44 drubbing of visiting Crystal Springs. The Gators improved to 12-1 in league (18-5 overall) while the Gryphons fell to 2-11 (5-18 overall). Sacred Heart can wrap up its first league title since 2006 with a victory over visiting King's Academy on Friday night at 6:30 p.m.
The McConnell brothers — juniors Reed and Will plus sophomore Cole — combined for 35 points to help spark the Gators. Reed knocked down four 3-points and finished with a game-high 20 points. As has been the case this season, the Gators' depth emerged with 11 players finding the scoring column.
The Gators hold a slim one-game lead over Harker heading into the regular-season finale. Harker (11-2, 19-4) maintained second place with a victory at third-place Pinewood on Tuesday.
In Atherton, Menlo School moved into sole possession of fourth place in the WBAL with a 48-44 victory over visiting Priory. The Knights (7-6, 9-14) completed their season sweep of the Panthers (4-9, 9-13) as Richard Harris and Harrison Nida led the way with 10 points each. Brandon Willhite led Priory with 13 points in the defeat. Menlo finished its WBAL schedule by visiting second-place Harker on Thursday evening.
In Los Altos Hills, Pinewood played without junior starters Kyle Riches (broken hand), Aaron Daines (concussion) and Arun Sundaresan (ACL) and had a difficult time bottling up Harker's three-point shooting. The result was a 63-50 loss for the host Panthers (9-4, 16-6. Pinewood was led by senior Max Lippe with 18 points and sophomore Solomone Wolfgramm's 17 points.
Gunn kept its hopes alive for a return trip to the CCS playoffs with a 63-41 romp over visiting Monta Vista in a SCVAL De Anza Division game on Tuesday night. The Titans improved to 6-5 in league (9-12 overall) while the Matadors fell to 5-6 (12-11). Freshman point guard Claire Klausner and sophomore center Cat Perez led Gunn with 16 points each while senior Rachael Clark added 12. The Titans held the Matadors to 1-for-2 free-throw shooting.
In the first round of the WBAL playoffs, host Menlo defeated King's Academy, 62-44, on Tuesday night behind the strong play of Emma Paye who led the team in scoring with 15. Drew Edelman added 12 points and Lauren Lete chipped in 11. Menlo played at Mercy-San Francisco in a quarterfinal game Thursday night.
In another WBAL first-round game, host Sacred Heart Prep held off Notre Dame-San Jose, 44-29. Melissa Holland, a freshman, led the Gators (8-16) with 14 points while Erin Sheridan added 10. Sacred Heart Prep visited Castilleja (17-7) in a second-round game Thursday night.
The WBAL semifinals will be played Friday with the championship game (6 p.m.) set for Saturday, both at King's Academy in Sunnyvale.•