There are games during the season that often can define a team's character and set the tone for the rest of the schedule.
Take, for example, Saturday's nonleague basketball showdown between the Sacred Heart Prep and host Menlo-Atherton boys.
Both teams came in riding nine-game winning streaks. Both teams were leading their respective leagues -- M-A in the PAL South Division and SHP in the West Bay Athletic League. And, both teams, perhaps, were trying to solidify their identify.
By game's end, the Bears had stretched their win streak to 10 with an impressive 65-50 victory while stamping themselves as legitimate contenders for a strong postseason run.
"It's always a nice victory beating Sacred Heart Prep in basketball, and football, in same year," said M-A coach Mike Molieri. "It's a local rivalry game and always a fun, exciting high school basketball game. Great crowd and two amazing sixth-man crews."
Menlo-Atherton improved to 18-2, the best record of any local boys team this season.
"Our resume speaks for itself," said Molieri. "We've played a tough preseason with two very close losses to Bellarmine and Half Moon Bay. We're good and this group has a heart of a warrior ready to compete each night."
SHP coach Tony Martinelli agreed.
"Yes, they are as good as their record indicates," he said. "They are coached well, have the athleticism and discipline to smother you defensively, they don't shy away from defending the paint and taking charges and they have the best three-guard play of anyone that we have seen. Norton can break down a defense in transition or from sets and the Fioretti twins have a real nice calmness about them that relaxes everyone else when they have the ball in their hands.
"They are always working to get the ball in the paint first but, if an open perimeter shot comes their way, they can knock it down. Their win over Berkeley in the preseason shows me that they can compete with the best in our section and then in the NorCal tournament. They are a team to watch in the postseason because their guard play is so strong and their defense will always keep them in games."
On Saturday, the Gators (10-8) raced to a quick 17-10 first-quarter lead on the strength of three-point shooting. SHP maintained the lead (31-27) going into halftime.
After a back-and- forth third quarter, M-A used a pressing defense to grab the lead, 47-44, after three. M-A kept up the pressure and momentum to outscore SHP, 18-6, in the fourth quarter.
Eric Norton led the Bears with 21 points. Christian Fioretti had 15 points and six assists. Lucas Fioretti added 11 points and eight rebounds. Blake Henry had eight points and four steals and Raymond Fowler had six points and three boards for the Bears, who are 8-0 in the PAL South and hold a two-game lead over second-place Burlingame, which visits M-A on Feb. 9.
For the Gators, Mason Randall had 15 points that included three treys, Connor Moses had nine points, Eric DeBrine had eight and Tevin Panchal added seven points.
The Gators remain 8-0 in the WBAL with games at Harker and King's Academy this week.
At the Bentley Corner Bakery Showcase in Lafayette, Pinewood beat host Bentley School, 78-68, capping off a three-win week for the Panthers. Bentley School leads the Bay Counties League with a 6-0 mark.
Pinewood Junior Matthew Peery led all scorers with 25 points, including 23 in the second half as the Panthers (11-7) rallied from an 11-point first-quarter deficit. Pinewood put up 47 second-half points to Bentley's 35.
Pinewood seniors Roshan Bal, Nathan Beak, and Kyle Murphy added 19, 16, and 11 points respectively. Bentley was led by Senior Mateen Hirbod, who had 20 points.