On a night that saw the Sacred Heart Prep and Pinewood boys tie for the West Bay Athletic League basketball title and the Menlo-Atherton boys and girls advance to the PAL Tournament championship games, the Palo Alto girls missed out on tying for the SCVAL De Anza Division crown.
Facing a 17-points deficit at halftime, Palo Alto needed a dominant second-half performance against Los Gatos to win on Senior Night and force a tie atop the SCVAL De Anza Division standings.
Los Gatos held on to defeat Paly, 43-36, clinching an outright division title for the Wildcats (11-1, 18-5) over the Vikings (9-3, 16-7).
"They had a pretty good game plan for us," Paly head coach Scott Peters said. "We came back and played hard, but we just couldn't hang on to the ball."
Paly opened the third quarter on an 11-0 run, and got within three points late in the fourth quarter, but could never tie or take the lead in the final moments of the game.
"We were in the lockeroom at halftime saying 'we're going to fight back'," senior Maddy Atwater said. "We didn't get the result we wanted, but it's always a fight."
Both teams delivered balanced scoring attacks, as no players from either squad reached double-digit point totals. Juniors Skylar Burris and Maya Lahti led Paly with eight points each, while Alena Brady and Lauren Lacey paced Los Gatos with nine points apiece.
Before the last home game of the season, Paly seniors Atwater, Alexis Harris and Coco Lovely were honored with a Senior Night celebration that included heartfelt quotes about the senior leaders from Peters and the rest of the Paly squad.
Once the pomp and circumstance of the pregame ceremony was over and the basketball game tipped-off, the Vikings struggled to find a groove offensively, committing four turnovers in the opening moments of the contest.
"I don't know if it was because of Senior Night, but we were nervous," Peters said. "You can't be nervous, you got to come out and play."
Despite the Vikings' slow start, the game was still tied at 16 midway through the second quarter. But, the Wildcats went on a 17-0 run over the next five minutes, capped off by two breakaway layups from Brady to end the half.
"They started scoring we started getting down," Atwater said. "Then we started playing tighter and tighter."
After allowing 33 first-half points, the Vikings' defensive intensity picked up tremendously at the start of the second half.
Paly forced five turnovers in the third quarter, leading to multiple fastbreak opportunities during their 11-0 run.
Los Gatos was held scoreless until the two-minute mark of the third, and a 3-pointer by Carly Leong put Paly within seven heading into the fourth quarter.
Although the Vikings' defense remained stellar in the fourth quarter, allowing only one field goal, the team struggled to find an offensive rhythm. The Vikings could only muster six points themselves in the quarter, and were held scoreless for the final three minutes of the game.
"We need to learn from this game going into the playoffs," Atwater said. "We just have to play calm. On offense, we're just rushing our shots, and every one of us can shoot and get to the basket. We just need to realize that."
Paly likely will be invited to the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs, which start next week, while Los Gatos is expected participate in the Division II playoffs. The CCS seeding meeting is Sunday.
In the WBAL, the Sacred Heart Prep (12-2, 14-10) and Pinewood (12-2, 16-8) boys shared the league title following closer-than-expected victories to end the regular season. The Gators held off host Priory, 58-54, while the Panthers defeated visiting Eastside Prep, 58-52.
In Portola Valley, SHP had a hard time pulling away from Priory as the teams were tied at halftime, 24-24, before the Gators edged ahead after intermission. Mason Randall knocked down four 3-pointers and finished with 18 points while Emmanuel Ajanaku-Makun paced the Panthers (7-7, 11-8) with 19.
In Atherton, Menlo School finished in fourth place in the WBAL following a convincing 55-42 win over visiting Harker. The Knights finished the regular season 8-6 in league and 10-14 overall).
Menlo's defensive effort sparked the win over Harker. Senior Charlie Roth, sophomore Will Roth and junior Hayden Pegley each grabbed five rebounds. Menlo senior Jared Lucian paved the way with 17 points, six rebounds and four assists while sophomore JH Tevis scored 14 points and senior Ben Simon added 11 more.
At the PAL Tournament, Menlo-Atherton advanced to the title game on Saturday night (7:30 p.m.) against Half Moon Bay at Mills High following a 56-36 semifinal victory over Aragon. The Bears improved to 24-2 with their 15th straight triumph.
M-A shook off a poor shooting night and relied upon its smothering defense to defeat pesky Aragon. M-A relied initially on Lucas Fioretti's eight first-quarter points to take a 12-8 lead. The Bears extended the lead to 29-16 as their guards pressured the Dons (12-14) and came up with six steals.
Aragon scored the first seven points of the second half to close the gap to 29-23, but M-A went on a 10-0 run to maintain a 39-27 lead at the end of the third quarter as Eric Norton led the way. He finished with 20 points, including 12 of 15 from the free-throw line. He also had four boards. Christian Fioretti had 15 points, nine rebounds and five steals. Lucas Fioretti had nine points and four boards. Blake Henry chipped in 11 rebounds and Raymond Fowler had seven rebounds.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Gunn put the finishing touches on the league crown by overcoming a scoreless first period to post a 42-32 overtime victory over host Fremont. The Titans (10-2, 17-2) fell behind by 12-0 after one period and scored a season-low seven first-half points.
Fremont played fantastic defense in the first half, alternating a swarming 3-2 zone and a box-and-1 defense targeting Alex Gil-Fernandez. Whenever Gil-Fernandez touched the ball, there were two or three guys smothering him. Fremont head coach Jason Townsend evidently had come up with a nice plan to neutralize Gunn's leading scorer. Gunn did not shoot the ball well and was behind 24-7 at the half.
The second half was an entirely different story. Gunn coach Brandynn Williams made some nice adjustments. The Titans came out with fullcourt pressure, forced turnovers and started making shots. The momentum shifted almost right away. Fremont struggled to score and Gunn chipped away at the lead.
Gunn finally tied the score 30-30 inside the 2:00 mark of the fourth quarter. Fremont regrouped to take the lead 32-30, but Gunn junior Josh Radin tied it again at 32 on a nice dish from Gil-Fernandez. Each team had opportunities to win the game in the final 20 seconds. The overtime was all Gunn, 10-0. Seniors Jonathan Davis and Gil-Fernandez led the Titans with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
At Gunn High, Palo Alto missed out on securing sole possession of third place in the De Anza Division by dropping a 53-50 decision to visiting Los Gatos. The Vikings fell to 7-5 (16-8 overall) while the Wildcats tied for second at 8-4 (17-7) with idle Wilcox. Justin Hull and Myles Tention tallied 11 points each to pace Paly.
Menlo-Atherton won its 21st contest with a 61-43 triumph over South San Francisco in the semifinals of the PAL Tournament. The Bears (24-2) will face Oceana for the title on Saturday (6 p.m.) at Mills High.
M-A jumped out to a 17-point halftime lead against SSF with Greer Hoyem and Ilana Baer scoring 10 and nine points, respectively. But, the Warriors would not go away quietly and in the third Brittney Cedeno torched the Bears for eight straight points and two steals in three minutes to close the deficit to eighth points. Cedeno led all players with 20 points on the night.
That, however, was the end of the Warriors' highlights as the Bears locked down defensively and scored in the paint and from the arc. Megan Sparrow had eight second-half points and led the Bears with 15 points. Hoyem finished with 14 and Baer added 13.
In San Jose, Sacred Heart Prep pulled into a two-way tie for third place in the WBAL Foothill Division following a 68-36 romp over host Notre Dame-San Jose. Senior Riley Hemm paced the Gators (5-5, 17-6) with 21 points with Ma'ata Makoni adding 15. SHP held the Regents to 20 points over the first three quarters while building a 32-point lead.
In Mountain View, Archer Olson put up 27 points for visiting Gunn in a 68-59 loss to the Spartans to close the SCVAL De Anza Division regular season. Georgia Hake added 15 points for the Titans (4-8, 13-10).
Gunn, Menlo School and Menlo-Atherton Athletics all contributed