The first half proved disastrous for the Palo Alto and Sacred Heart Prep boys' basketball teams during their respective Central Coast Section semifinal games on Tuesday night. One team recovered, however, while the other did not.
In the CCS Division II semifinals at Foothill College, No. 4 seed 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 (27-2). 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 CCS Division IV semifinals at Menlo School, No. 1 seed Sacred Heart Prep scored just 17 points in the first half and trailed No. 4 Carmel by four points at intermission. The Gators (24-2) shook off a poor shooting effort with a 35-point third quarter and 61-point second half for a 78-39 drubbing of the Padres.
As a result, Palo Alto will not play for a CCS title on Friday night while Sacred Heart Prep will. The Gators will face No. 2 Santa Cruz, a 76-52 winner over No. 3 Palma, at Santa Clara University at 4:45 p.m. Both teams have qualified for the CIF NorCal playoffs, which begin next Tuesday. Friday's winner will play at home while the runnerup will travel.
Sacred Heart 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 while not doing the things that had produced 19 straight wins prior to Tuesday's game.
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. Three forced turnovers resulted in seven points for SHP, which finally took the lead and never let up. The Gators shot 75 percent from the floor in the third period to blow the game open.
Senior Will McConnell and his brother Cole, a junior, both scored 18 points for the Gators while senior Cal Baloff added 13.
Sacred Heart Prep will defend its section title against Santa Cruz, a team the Gators beat three times last season -- including ending the Cardinals' season (55-54) in the semifinals.
Palo Alto and Mitty, meanwhile, also had some history going in their semifinal on Tuesday. The Monarchs ended the Vikings' season in similar fashion last season, 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 33-12 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.
The Sacred Heart Prep and Priory girls saw their CCS championship hopes end, as did the Menlo-Atherton boys, following losses in the semifinals on Tuesday night.
Playing without senior standout Abby Dahlkemper, who was in Spain with the U.S. Under-20 National Team, Sacred Heart Prep dropped a 2-1 decision to No. 2-seeded Live Oak in the Division III semifinals at Valley Christian in San Jose. The No. 3-seeded Gators finished the season 14-5-3 after being eliminated in the semis for the second straight season.
SHP senior Geena Graumann scored in the 50th minute for the Gators, tying the score.
"We looked overmatched in the first 20 minutes of the first half," said SHP coach Jake Moffat, "but it evened out by the end of the half. We dominated the second half and had two or three spectacular chances in the last 15 minutes.
"I thought we were going to go ahead. We gave up the second goal in the 75th minute. My team really stepped up in the second half. It was an excellent match."
In addition to Graumann and Dahlkemper, Moffat said goodbye to seniors Kendall Cody, Francesca Surraco, KK Lane, Sophia Abuel-Saud, Rachel Rosensweig, Lauren Espeseth, Nicole Quilliam and Gianna Capovilla.
In the first Division III semifinal at Valley Christian, No. 5-seeded Priory (13-3-5) and No. 8 Valley Christian (11-5-6) played to a scoreless deadlock in regulation and two overtime periods before the Warriors won on penalty kicks, 5-4, as Priory sophomore Sarah Zuckerman had her shot blocked.
The Panthers lost junior Darrah Shields to an injury midway through the second half. She didn't return nor was she able to participate in the penalty kicks.
In the boys' Division I semifinal at Piedmont Hills, Menlo-Atherton saw its fine season end in a 2-0 loss to No. 2 seed Mountain View. The No. 3-seeded Bears (14-4-2) were coming off a big 2-0 win over Palo Alto on Saturday and appeared to have plenty of momentum heading into the match. The Spartans (17-1-3), however, played like a team that had lost only once this season and advanced to the CCS finals against No. 1 Bellarmine, a 3-0 semifinal winner over Evergreen Valley.