With a league basketball championship on the line, the Menlo-Atherton boys stuck to the same formula that has them undefeated in PAL South Division play -- space the floor on offense, pressure the ball on defense and quicken the overall pace of the game.
The result on Tuesday night was a dominating victory over the second-place team in the league.
On their home court, the Bears (11-0, 21-2) clinched the division crown with a 68-41 win over Burlingame (8-3, 16-7), giving head coach Mike Molieri his first league title at Menlo-Atherton and the Bears their 13th straight triumph.
"This is a group of kids that challenged themselves," Molieri said. "This is reaping the reward of their hard work over the summer and fall."
The division title meant a lot for a Bears squad that returned several key pieces from last season, when the team finished fourth in the PAL South.
"Coming into the season we knew our senior and junior class were really talented," senior Blake Henry said. "We knew we could do big things. We knew we could go undefeated in league."
Two seniors, Henry and Christian Fioretti, led a balanced Bears' scoring attack against the Panthers with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Henry also had 10 rebounds Overall, nine players scored for Menlo-Atherton and four players finished with double-digit points. Lucas Fioretti added 13 and Eric Norton 11.
Perhaps more impressive was the Menlo-Atherton defensive effort, as Burlingame was held 22 points under its season average. Vinny Ferrari led the Panthers with 19 points, but made just three field goals, while second-leading scorer Tyler Garlitos was held to four points.
"We've got our three guards, Eric (Norton), Lucas (Fioretti) and Christian (Fioretti) that are so good at shutting out the key players every game," Henry said. "A lot of our defensive intensity comes from them."
Christian Fioretti gave the Bears a spark midway through the second quarter, scoring six straight points to break open a tie game. Overall, the Bears went on a 15-2 run to close the second quarter and took a 33-20 lead at halftime.
"Usually I'm a pass-first point guard, but once in a while they need my offense out there," Christian Fioretti said.
Henry opened up the third quarter with a quick run of his own, knocking down two jumpers and feeding Christian Fioretti for a layup to give the Bears a 20-point advantage.
Later in the quarter, Ferrari tried to single-handedly bring the Panthers back into the ball-game, scoring eight straight points to cut the deficit to 11.
But, the Bears responded with a 10-4 run to close the quarter, and Lucas Fioretti knocked down a big 3-pointer with five seconds remaining that put Menlo-Atherton back up 17.
The Bears kept their defensive intensity up in the fourth quarter, holding the Panthers to seven points while forcing seven turnovers to clinch the victory and the league title.
Although Menlo-Atherton only has one game left before the PAL Tournament starts -- Thursday at Woodside -- there is still one major goal the Bears would like to accomplish."
"Our next goal is to go undefeated (in league play), that's a goal for ourselves," Molieri said.
In the West Bay Athletic League, Sacred Heart Prep retook sole possession of first place with a 70-57 victory over visiting Menlo School. The Gators improved to 10-1 in league (12-9 overall) and moved ahead of erstwhile leader Pinewood (10-2, 14-8), which suffered a 72-59 upset loss to visiting King's Academy.
SHP was coming off an upset loss to King's Academy last Friday.
"It helps to have a rivalry game follow a loss because you do not have to worry about the team being focused and ready to play," explained SHP coach Tony Martinelli.
The Menlo-SHP game was a two-point contest until the fourth period, which the Gators outscored the Knights, 19-8, to secure the important victory.
"I thought both teams played extremely hard and we were fortunate to buckle down defensively in the fourth quarter and force them into some turnovers that kept the momentum on our side," said Martinelli. "Up until that point, we were basically trading baskets or defensive stops."
Senior Mason Randall poured in a season-high 30 points, 18 coming on six 3-pointers. Justin Harmon added 14 points while Jared Lucian led Menlo (6-6, 8-14) with 16 points.
"Mason really bailed us out a few times in the first half with some late-clock 3's, and Justin Harmon seemed to get a big offensive rebound and put back when we needed it most," said Martinelli. "By the fourth quarter, we had fouled out (Menlo's JH) Tevis) and had Charlie Roth in foul trouble, so we were able to go inside a bit more and take control of the game.
"Mason did a good job of letting the game come to him. He had 20 in the first half and, in the second, he did not force the issue and stayed away from bad shots. Thirty points on 13 shots is an efficient night, and he also filled up the stat sheet with five rebounds, four steals, four assists and a block. It was an MVP type of performance."
In Los Altos Hills, Pinewood saw its Senior Night ruined as the Panthers fell behind by 28-9 after one quarter and never could make up the huge deficit.
King's Academy jumped to a 13-0 lead and shot 64.5 percent on 31-of-48 shooting. Senior Jaden Carson had 21 first-half points for the visitors and finished with 29. Pinewood was led by Matthew Peery's 19 points and 15 from Nathan Beak. Kyle Murphy added 12 points for Pinewood, which will visit Sacred Heart Prep on Friday (7 p.m.) with the WBAL championship on the line.
In Portola Valley, host Priory played without scoring leader Scotty Harris but still had enough depth to topple last-place Crystal Springs, 56-39. Zach Weiss led the Panthers (6-5, 10-6) with 17 points with Emmanuel Ajanaku-Makun adding 11.
Menlo-Atherton clinched no worse than a tie for the PAL South Division regular-season title with a 68-34 romp over host Burlingame. The Bears improved to 11-0 in league (21-2 overall) with their 18th straight triumph while staying in front of Hillsdale (10-1, 14-9) with one game remaining -- Thursday at Woodside (2-9, 6-13) at 6:15 p.m.
The Bears found themselves in a 9-9 deadlock with 90 seconds left in the first quarter, but Megan Sparrow and Greer Hoyem combined to score eight straight points and M-A never looked back. Hoyem led all scorers with 15. Ofa Sili, Ilana Baer, Sparrow and Mele Kailahi all scored eight and Sally Carlson added five.
In the WBAL Foothill Division, Menlo School held on to sole possession of second place following a hard-fought 56-53 victory over host Sacred Heart Prep. The Knights moved to 7-1 in league (18-4 overall) while the Gators fell to 4-4 and 16-5.
Sam Erisman led Menlo with 21 points and Hannah Paye added 16, while Kenzie Duffner pulled down 14 rebounds. While the Knights missed 10 free throws, they still outscored the Gators from the charity stripe, 22-7, as Menlo took 20 more attempts.
Senior guard Riley Hemm led SHP with 21 points as she drained five 3-pointers. Ma'ata Makoni added 10 points and Tatum Angotti nine.
In East Palo Alto, Pinewood swept its season series with host Eastside Prep with a 63-38 rout and remained atop the WBAL Foothill Division standings at 8-0 (17-3 overall). Eastside Prep dropped to 3-5 (11-11).
In the WBAL Skyline Division, Priory held on to a share of first place with a 52-34 victory over visiting Mercy-Burlingame in Portola Valley. The Panthers (7-1, 13-5) got a season-high 16 points plus four rebound and four steals from Sam McCabe. Ila Lane and Tatiana Reese added 11 points each and combined for 10 rebounds and four assists. Gabby Ruiz finished with nine points, five rebounds, five steals and two assists for Priory.
Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School appear headed for a co-championship in the WBAL after both teams posted victories.
Menlo defeated host Castilleja, 3-1, at the Mayfield Soccer Complex. The Knights, who
improved to 7-0-2 in league and 9-2-5 overall, got on the scoreboard first when Emily Demmon scored on an assist from Cleo King about five minutes in. Eight minutes later, Alexa Thomases scored on a cross from Zoe Enright and the Knights led 2-0.
Enright scored on a 20-yard left-footed shot in the 25th minute in a dominating first half.
Castilleja scored in the 50th minute with Anais Serrazin doing the honors.
In Atherton, host Sacred Heart Prep posted a 3-0 victory over Notre Dame-San Jose and improved to 7-0-2 and 11-5-2.
The Gators got the winning goal in the eighth minute when a shot deflected off a Regents defender and into the cage for an own goal. Samantha Tinney tallied an unassisted goal in the 26th minute and Mia Shenk made it 3-0 in the 38th minute with Carey Bradley assisting.
SHP will host Castilleja (3-5-1, 4-9-3) on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., and Menlo will host last-place Harker to close the regular season at 2:45 p.m.
In the WBAL Skyline Division, host Pinewood romped past Eastside Prep, 7-0, and improved to 5-4 in league (9-8-1 overall).
Elsewhere, Priory (4-3-1 league) dropped a 7-2 decision to Crystal Springs (8-1, 12-4-1). Brenda Uribe scored Priory's goals.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton moved into sole possession of second place following a 2-0 win over host Aragon. The Bears improved to 7-2-2 in league (9-4-2 overall) and overtook Carlmont (6-3-2, 7-7-3), which fell to first place Woodside (11-0, 13-0-1) by 4-1.
M-A, which still has three matches remaining, was held scoreless in the first half at Aragon before getting unassisted goals from Talia Missan and fellow senior Sarah McLeod.
M-A's defense was led by senior Jaya Blanchard, juniors Allison Galbraith and Ally Sivilotti, sophomore Grace Brieger and freshman Elizabeth Young.
Gunn wrapped up its regular season and tuned up for this weekend's league championship meet by pinning down a 66-18 dual-match win over Monta Vista to finish the SCVAL De Anza Division season at 3-3 (6-3 overall).
The Matadors were ranked No. 7 in the CCS, but the Titans came through on Senior Night.
"Half their kids are ranked in CCS," said Gunn coach Chris Horpel, "but we saw a very decimated squad from Monta Vista tonight. "You want an exciting meet for the seniors, but we did not get that tonight."
Of the 14 matches, all ended in either a pin or forfeit. Gunn won seven matches by pin and four by forfeit.
Gunn will host the 15-team SCVAL Championships on Friday (1 p.m.) and Saturday (noon) in Bow Gym. The top six finishers in each weight division qualify for the CCS Championships the following weekend at Independence High in San Jose.