By Tim Goode
Special to Palo Alto Online Sports
Sacred Heart Prep senior Tomas O'Donnell was all smiles after Sacred Heart Prep's 61-51 victory over Santa Cruz in the Central Coast Section Division IV championship game Friday at Santa Clara University.
O'Donnell, who had just led all rebounders with 12 and scored a season-high 14 points, was one of the main reasons the No. 1-seeded Gators (25-2) captured their second straight title, won their 21st consecutive game and advanced to host a NorCal playoff game on Thursday (7 p.m.) against No. 6 Amador of Sutter Creek (25-6) or No. 11 St. Patrick/St. Vincent (24-8) of Vallejo. The Gators are the No. 3 seed for NorCals.
O'Donnell and fellow senior Colin Terndrup, who played an equally important role in the Gators' success, were both big reasons the football team also won a Central Coast Section title in the fall. O'Donnell caught two touchdown passes in that title game. After playing backup roles on both teams as a junior, it's turning into quite a senior year for O'Donnell.
Without Reed McConnell and his 14.6 points per game – he was suspended for the game for leaving the bench after a Carmel player shoved his twin on a breakaway in the semifinals – Sacred Heart Prep tried to emphasize defense to stifle Santa Cruz's fast-breaking offense. It was successful enough to limit the Cardinals' second-leading scorer, Zen Maki to six points, below his 10.5 ppg average.
Second-seeded Santa Cruz (22-7) was held to 37 percent shooting, better than SHP's 31 percent, but the Gators benefited from the fine play of O'Donnell and Terndrup.
O'Donnell grabbed seven of his rebounds and scored eight of his points in the fourth quarter.
"That was by far Tomas' best game," said Sacred Heart Prep coach Tony Martinelli. "When he got back in the game (after sitting out the third quarter with three fouls) he controlled the game. He showed a lot of heart."
Senior Will McConnell led all scorers with 16 points. Terndrup (12) and junior Cole McConnell (10) also scored in double figures.
Terndrup shouldered most of the ball-handling responsibilities, no small task against the quick and pressing Cardinals. Terndrup's presence was so pivotal he didn't come out of the game despite the frenetic pace and the constant pressure put on him.
The two up-tempo teams started slowly, but things changed in the second quarter when both teams started running. Prep built leads of eight points three times but Santa Cruz, behind 11 points from guard Dominic Bonner (the only points he scored), surged to within one with a minute left in the half, but didn't take a lead.
Prep fended off the Cardinals behind the slashing of Terndrup (six points) and O'Donnell's inside play (six points, five rebounds).
"We were doing what (Santa Cruz) wanted us to do in the second quarter," O'Donnell said. "We weren't slowing down. In the second half we did more of what we wanted."
Santa Cruz held a brief four-point lead in the third quarter, but Prep took charge in the fourth quarter and didn't let the Cardinals get closer than four the rest of the way.
Will McConnell's three-pointer with 2:20 left pushed the lead to 10 points and effectively iced the game. Cole McConnell made all four free throws and O'Donnell had eight in the final period.
The championship victory was one of Prep's closer games of the year and Martinelli believes the semifinal game in which the Gators overcame and early deficit to win big helped prepare his team.
"The Carmel game shook us up," Martinelli said. "We haven't been down much this year and being in a close game helped us through tonight's game. Winning back-to-back championships is hard to do."
Sacred Heart is now 5-6 all-time in CCS title games. The Gators have won five titles since their first in 1995.
Central Coast Section Division IV Championship
At Santa Clara University
Santa Cruz 8 23 10 10 -- 51
Sacred Heart Prep 13 20 11 17 - 61
SC – Schmidt 2 0-0 4, Maki 3 0-0 6, Williams 5 1-2 12, Conroy 4 1-1 9, Hansen 2 0-0 4, Bonner 4 1-2 11, Demeo 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 3-5 51.
SHP – P. McNamara 1 2-2 4, C. McConnell 2 4-4 10, C. Baloff 0 2-2 2, Watterson 0 1-2 1, Terndrup 4 4-10 12, W. McConnell 6 2-4 16, O'Donnell 6 2-2 14. Totals: 19 17-26 61.
Three-point goals: Bonner 2, Williams (SC); C. McConnell 2, W. McConnell 2 (SHP)
Records: Santa Cruz 22-7; Sacred Heart Prep 25-2