Aidan Braccia took time to applaud the Sacred Heart Prep student cheering section late in SHP’s 69-55 home victory over St. Francis in the Central Coast Section Open Division boys basketball tournament Monday night.
The second-seeded Gators (23-3) had the game well in hand, recovering from a discombobulated first quarter after which they trailed 25-9. The Lancers were forced to foul after falling behind by double digits.
Braccia was fouled in front of the student body and before he took his turn at the foul line, clapped his hands in appreciation of the crowd’s support.
The student section never gave up on the team, standing for the final three quarters. Sacred Heart Prep responded by outscoring St. Francis 60-30, which included a 25-2 run, over the final three quarters.
The win sets up a showdown with No. 3 Riordan (18-8) for the right to advance to Friday’s championship contest. SHP and Riordan are both 2-0 in pool play. No. 1 Mitty and No. 4 St. Ignatius play for the other spot in the title match.
Riordan plays at Sacred Heart Prep on Wednesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
This is as close to the title game that any non-West Catholic Athletic League team has ever been in the Open Division.
Since the Open Division debuted in 2013, only WCAL teams have ever played in the championship game.
Sacred Heart Prep beat Riordan in the first round of the 2015 Open Division playoffs, the first non-WCAL team to even win a game at that level.
For the first eight minutes, things weren’t looking so good for the Gators. The Lancers (15-11) were having their way, consistently getting to the basket and drawing fouls.
The rally began with a solid second quarter, in which SHP played toe-to-toe with St. Francis.
“The second quarter got us balanced and it was unheralded guys like Mat Bucher, RJ Stephens and Jake York that began to set a more physical tone,” SHP coach Tony Martinelli wrote in an email. “No surprise all three of them are football players.”
Emmer Nichols hit a 3-pointer at the end of the first half to send the Gators into halftime on a good note.
“At the half, I think they knew that we could have been down by 25 so 14 seemed manageable; especially with our offensive firepower,” Martinelli wrote. “They knew they played a poor half defensively and missed some shots that we typically hit.”
The second half belonged to the Gators, who turned the double-digit deficit into a three-point lead after three quarters and then just kept attacking.
“More energy and effort on the defensive end and knocking down some shots in the second half were the biggest adjustments,” wrote Martinelli.
Braccia led SHP, the defending Division IV champion, with 17 points. Nichols added 16 and Kevin Carney netted 10 as the Gators extended their winning streak to 12 games and 17 of the past 18.
Senior Tim Netane scored 15 points to lead St. Francis, which has at least two more games, guaranteed. The Lancers meet Bellarmine on Wednesday and will then take part in the CIF Northern California playoffs next week.
Senior Vince Barringer added 13 points, which included four 3-pointers, and Isaiah Kerr had 10.
Ella Ladine scored 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as third-seeded Pinewood made itself at home, winning at No. 7 Palo Alto 77-45 in a CCS Open Division contest Monday night.
Kaile Cruz added 19 points for Pinewood (21-1), which plays at No. 2 St. Ignatius (18-7) at 7 p.m. Wednesday for a spot in Friday’s championship game.
Ladine was 7-of-9 from 3-point range and 13-of-22 overall. Cruz was 5-of-8 from long range. Jade Ramirez contributed seven assists.
Palo Alto (20-4) plays at No. 6 Sacred Heart Cathedral on Wednesday. The Vikings have already clinched a spot in the NorCals.
Pinewood will be looking to even things with SI. The Wildcats handed Pinewood its only loss of the season on Dec. 11.
Pinewood was the designated home team Monday.
No. 5 St. Francis fell at No. 1 Mitty 69-36 and will host No. 8 Half Moon Bay at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.