Tony Martinelli should be a firm believer in that it's not how one starts the season, but how it finishes. His Sacred Heart Prep basketball team, after all, began this season 1-7.
The Gators are now 15-10 and headed to the semifinals of the Central Coast Section Division IV playoffs after defeating rival Menlo School, 63-54, on Saturday in a quarterfinal at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz.
Top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep will face No. 5 Carmel (22-4) in the semifinals on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., also at Kaiser Arena. Carmel eliminated No. 4 King's Academy (16-9) by 59-47.
Senior Mason Randall made five 3-pointers and finished with 26 points to pace the Gators.
"Mason started hot and, even when the offense stopped running through him, he did really good things on the defensive end," said SHP coach Tony Martinelli. "He had a huge block in the third quarter when we were up four and Menlo was starting to get some momentum back. He proved why he was the MVP of our league today.
"Mason is at his best when he is not forcing shots and letting the offense come to him. He only took one or two shots that I thought we could have worked for a better shot, but he made up for those right away with a big steal, rebound or blocked shot."
SHP's victory was its third over No. 8 Menlo (11-15) this season. The Gators won twice during the West Bay Athletic League season while tying Pinewood for the league crown.
SHP grabbed a 21-13 first-quarter lead before the Menlo made a game of it and trailed by just 33-32 at halftime. The Gators outscored the Knights, 20-10, in the third period to pull away.
Connor Moses added 14 points for SHP and Andrew Daschbach finished with 11. Jared Lucian led Menlo with 15 points plus four rebounds and JH Tevis added 13. The only real negative for SHP was a below average effort at the foul line, just 15 of 26.
"Overall, it was a good team win," said Martinelli. "We went up early, gave the lead up and were only ahead by one at the half. The third quarter is when we pulled ahead and got the lead into double digits because of solid plays by Moses, Daschbach and (Kyle) Stalder going to the basket and either scoring or getting to the free-throw line. We are still looking for four solid quarters of basketball, and hopefully, we can prove that we can do it in the semis."
Menlo coach Keith Larsen, meanwhile, was happy with his team's effort, as well.
"I'm so proud of these guys," Larsen said. "I loved coaching them, and we got great senior leadership from Jared Lucian, Ben Simon, Charlie Roth John Guiragossian and Faraz Abbasi. "
Sacred Heart Prep wasn't the only WBAL team to enjoy success in the CCS quarterfinals on Saturday.
In Division V, top-seeded Pinewood (17-8) rolled to an 85-43 victory over No. 8 Trinity Christian (10-12) at St. Francis-Central Coast Catholic in Watsonville.
Pinewood shot 23 for 28 from 2-point range (82 percent) en route to the easy win. The Panthers were led by senior Ryan Knotts and Junior Matthew Peery with 18 points apiece.
The Panthers next will play No. 4 Eastside Prep (14-11), which advanced with a 44-37 win over No. 5 Alma Heights (22-6). Eastside Prep and Pinewood will meet in the semifinals on Wednesday at Santa Clara High at 7:30 p.m.
Priory, the third team from the WBAL, also advanced to the semifinals following a 68-47 win over No. 6 R.L. Stevenson (12-14), also at SF-CCC. The No. 3 Panthers (12-8) will face No. 2 St. Francis-CCC (20-6) in the semis on Wednesday at Santa Clara High at 5:30 p.m.
In the Division I quarterfinals, Palo Alto saw its season come to a quick end following a 54-50 loss to No. 5 Cupertino (19-7) on Saturday at Piedmont Hills High in San Jose. The No. 4-seeded Vikings finished 16-9.
In Division II, Gunn may have rolled through an undefeated preseason before capturing the SCVAL De Anza Division title, but the Titans also saw their postseason end in a hurry as No. 7 Leigh handed them a 63-50 setback at Santa Clara High. Senior Alex Gil-Fernandez led Gunn (17-3) with 16 points and Jonathan Davis added 14.