By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Palo Alto-Gunn rivalry is always big, no matter the sport and the teams' records. Throw in unbeaten records and a chance to take over sole possession of first place in league play, and the rivalry is all the more intense.
That's the scenario for the schools' basketball teams when they meet Friday night at Palo Alto High.
The girls' game will match Gunn (5-0, 13-2) and Palo Alto (4-0, 11-14) at 6:15 p.m. The winner will take over the top spot in the SCVAL De Anza Division while relegating the loser to second place.
"I think it will be a fun game to play," said Paly coach Scott Peters, whose team lost twice to Gunn last season. "Defense and turnovers. Looking forward to the game."
As is Gunn coach Sarah Stapp.
"Should be a lot of fun," she said. "I'm just hoping that we can take care of the ball better than we did in both of our games against Paly last year. For us, that will be the key to the game. Both teams are athletic and rely heavily on their defensive effort and steals forced, which create an early offense."
The Gunn girls come in riding a five-game winning streak, the most recent triumph coming Wednesday in a 60-31 win over Wilcox. Paly beat the Chargers last week, 39-9.
Gunn and Paly actually have played six common opponents this season, with neither losing. The Titans have averaged 58.3 points in those games while allowing 34.7, with the Vikings' averages at 52.1 and 35. Gunn allowed 207 points while Paly gave up 208. The teams are that close.
For the Gunn girls to win, they need a similar effort like the one they had against Wilcox. Junior Cat Perez had 21 points with nine rebounds, five steals and two blocks. Freshman Zoe Zwerling added 15 points with three rebounds, three assists and four steals while sophomore Claire Klausner and junior Julia Maggioncalda combined for 17 points, five rebounds and seven steals.
Gunn needs to press and cause turnovers, pretty much Paly's game plan. The Titans have scored at least 60 points in their past three games. The Vikings need to make sure that doesn't happen again. Paly can be very good on defense (nine points vs. Wilcox) or just the opposite (65 against Terra Nova).
Gunn has no senior starters while Paly goes with seniors Katerina Peterson and Sydney Davis.
The Gunn at Paly boys' game at 7:45 p.m. should be just as competitive. Both teams, however, come into the showdown having lost their last game -- both to Cupertino. Paly lost last Friday, 45-40, while Gunn fell on Tuesday, 50-42.
The Titans (4-1, 12-5) and Vikings (3-1, 9-6) are essentially tied for the division lead, with the winner earning sole possession of the top spot.
Gunn has an all-senior starting lineup of Taylor Perricone, Jack Hannan, Matt Redfield, Cody Carefoot and Anthony Cannon. The Titans average 49.2 points a game with Hannan scoring at 13.6 ppg.
Paly, under first-year coach Adam Sax, is averaging 56.6 ppg with a lineup that includes sophomore EJ Floreal, junior Israel Hakim, senior Max Schmarzo, junior Alec Wong, senior Davante Adams, sophomores Mathias Schmutz and Aldis Petriceks plus junior Tori Prati.
Paly is potentially more explosive, having surpassed 60 points six times with two games over 70. Gunn has scored 60 or more only twice.
Palo Alto is the defending De Anza Division champ, having gone 11-1 last season. Gunn won the title the year before, also going 11-1.
Special honor: Prior to the boys' game, the Palo Alto football team will be presented with the Army National Guard national ranking trophy, as part of the sixth annual MaxPreps Tour of Champions.
The Vikings finished No. 13 in the final MaxPreps national rankings and is one of 50 schools being honored on this season's tour that recognizes the finest high school football teams in the country.
Palo Alto compiled a 14-0 record and captured the CIF Division I state playoff championship with a 15-13 triumph over then-No. 5 Centennial (Corona) in December. It was regarded as the biggest upset of the state playoffs and gave Paly its first perfect season since 1963.
Major Douglas Williams of the California Army National Guard and Mitch Stephens from MaxPreps will present Palo Alto head coach Earl Hansen with a national ranking trophy.
Elsewhere on Friday: Mid-Peninsula (5-0, 10-2) will put its first-place mark in the Private Schools Athletic League boys' basketball race on the line at San Francisco Christian at 4 p.m. The Sacred Heart Prep boys (5-0, 13-2) will risk its West Bay Athletic League lead against visiting Priory (1-4, 8-6) at 7:30 p.m. In other WBAL games, Eastside Prep (0-5, 5-10) hosts King's Academy at 5 p.m.; Menlo School (2-3, 6-8) visits King's Academy at 6:30 p.m., and Pinewood (4-1, 12-3) hosts Harker (3-1, 11-3) in a battle for second place. In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton (1-2, 8-9) is at Aragon at 7:45 p.m.
The girls will be playing: First-place Pinewood (3-0, 12-3) will risk its lead against visiting Mercy-San Francisco (2-1, 15-2) on Friday at 6 p.m. In other WBAL Foothill Division games, Castilleja (0-3, 8-6) will attempt to get coach Jez McIntosh his 200th career win at Sacred Heart Prep (0-3, 8-4) at 6 p.m., while Menlo School (2-1, 12-5) visits Eastside Prep (2-1, 11-6) in a battle for second place. In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton (1-2, 5-12) visits Aragon at 6:15 p.m.