ATHERTON — It’s not often headline-worthy news comes out of Atherton, one of the calmest places in the entire Bay Area.
In fact, the most compelling story to typically come out of the small town of just over 7,000 people would be to see one of its residents driving something other than a Prius or a Tesla.
Then Friday night came around, with two down-to-the-wire basketball games, as Menlo-Atherton beat Carlmont 65-62 and Sacred Heart Prep pulled off the biggest upset of the season in the Central Coast Section thus far, taking down rival Menlo 50-48 in overtime.
While high school sports are unpredictable and upsets are common, it’s incredibly rare to see an unranked team take down one ranked within the top 10 of the section, especially with how top-heavy the CCS is. That didn’t stop the Gators on Friday night.
Watching a 12-point lead vanish in the fourth quarter as Menlo’s offense woke up, matching the 21 points the Knights had scored over the first three periods, also wouldn’t stop SHP. Like every good upset story, there was a surprise hero taking center stage, and for the visiting Gators, it would be Charlie Selna.
Selna’s eight points off the bench, all coming in the second half and overtime, were critical, including the basket to give Sacred Heart Prep (6-7, 3-1 WBAL) the lead for good at 48-46 with 1:45 left in overtime. All the while, he was matched up with Menlo star Cole Kastner, a 6-foot-7 junior who has established himself as one of the Bay Area’s best post players
“What Charlie did down the stretch, rebounding the ball and being strong with it and then those two moves to the basket in overtime, it didn’t even bother him that he had Kastner on him,” said SHP head coach Tony Martinelli. “I thought that said a lot about his mentality.”
He drove right to the basket on Kastner, usually an unmovable force in the post, with 2:45 left in overtime to score off the glass and tie the score at 46. While Selna was one of the stars of the night, Kastner took it upon himself to be better despite what ended up still being a strong statistical night for the Menlo star, with a game-high 18 points and 17 rebounds, though he scored just two in the first half.
“I got a lot of sluff down from both the perimeter guards and the inside bigs, and it made a difficult situation for me,” Kastner said. “I’ve just got to adjust. It’s totally on me.”
Though it was a difficult night for Kastner, Menlo (9-3, 3-1) did get a big performance from an unheralded bench player to match Selna, with 5-9 sophomore Davis Mead coming up huge for the Knights.
Mead didn’t play a moment in the first half, but came on with just over five minutes left in the third quarter to try to provide energy for a team that had been lethargic for the most part. His presence instantly paid off with an assist, and he scored seven points in the fourth quarter to help the Knights tie it.
A corner three by freshman Harlan Banks gave the Gators their largest lead of the night at 33-21, but Menlo responded with a 14-2 run to tie it, started with a four-point run by Nate Solomon. A Mead assist on a Matthew Flower 3-pointer cut the lead to four, and the undersized sophomore’s corner three off an inbound pass with 3:13 left in regulation tied the game and sent the home fans into a frenzy.
Two Selna free throws put SHP back ahead with 2:23 left in regulation, but Mead responded with another basket to even it back up. Ryan von Thaden, who had struggled to shoot all night for the Gators, answered with a three of his own to put the visitors back on top, and two Brendan Carney free throws with 1:15 left made it a five-point game, but Mead and Kastner combined to force overtime with dramatic plays over the final minute. First, it was Kastner scoring in the paint to make it 42-39. After a turnover, Mead was fouled on a 3-pointer, and though he made just one of three at the line, he came up with a steal after missing his third attempt and fed Kastner under the hoop to tie the game. Yet another SHP turnover would even give Menlo a chance to win it in regulation, but the Knights would come up empty and the game would reach overtime.
In the extra period, Kastner had the first points before Carney responded at the line with two of his team-high 12, fueled by an 8-of-9 free throw performance. Kastner made two free throws of his own to put the Knights back in front, but SHP took the lead on Selna’s consecutive baskets. A Selna steal led to Yianni Gardner getting and making two free throws with 21.2 left in overtime, but even with Menlo out of timeouts, the drama wasn’t over just yet. Two Solomon free throws with 14.5 left brought the Knights within two, and after another Gator turnover, Mead had a chance to win the game, with his three from the corner rattling around the rim before falling out.
Even with his hard-luck miss on a potential game-winner and struggles at the free throw line, it was clear the Knights wouldn’t have even had a chance without Mead’s valiant performance, and his teammates and coaches were quick to let him know after the final buzzer sounded.
“If he doesn’t do what he did in the second half, we don’t even make it a game,” said Kai Bell, Menlo’s acting head coach while Keith Larsen undergoes hip surgery. “He was an incredible spark for us and showed a lot of courage on both ends.”
Bell, a former SHP assistant and JV coach, started leading the Knights last week and will likely be doing so into early February.
While Menlo lost in league play for just the second time in the last three years, the Gators, who started 1-5, officially announced themselves as contenders in the WBAL.
“When we go down to San Diego, there’s something that happens there that’s just organic,” Martinelli said. “They hang out with each other a lot, they start to get to know each other better and it translates to how they play on the court.”
Menlo led 9-4 after Justin Sellers banked in a 3-pointer to close the first quarter, but the Knights would score just two points in the second quarter and trailed 13-11 at halftime.
“There was no attempt to attack the zone at all in the first half,” said Bell. “We settled for jump shots in late-clock situations and our bigs didn’t go to the basket very hard. If we learned anything tonight, it’s how we come out of the gates and initiate that competitive nature. We wait a bit to see how the game’s going to go, and that hurt us tonight.”
The Knights will have a quick opportunity to rectify Friday’s mistakes with Saturday’s trip to an M-A team that had its own tight finish at home. Hosting 16th-ranked Carlmont in a battle between the two favorites in the PAL South, the visiting Scots came out with guns blazing, shooting the lights out to take a 23-12 lead after one quarter. Menlo-Atherton (10-3, 3-0) managed to cut the lead to three at halftime and go into the fourth with a 51-49 advantage, setting up for a seesaw final quarter where the lead changed hands 10 times.
The last of those changes came with 27 seconds left on two free throws by Heath Hooper, who scored 12 points for the Bears. Nick Tripaldi scored a team-high 18, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:35 left. Two free throws by Jake Kennedy, who led all scorers with 19, and one by Lajuan Nelson (14 points), gave the Scots a 62-61 advantage before Hooper went to the line and handled the pressure with ease. Carlmont (12-3, 2-1) shot 10-of-22 on 3-pointers for the night, with Sammy Bean (11 points) sinking three. The sixth-ranked Bears went 7-for-19, with Tripaldi knocking down four of his five and James Beckwith, who scored 13, making two.