ATHERTON — After leading by nine with just over three minutes to go and holding a six-point advantage in the final minute, most teams would have been absolutely shell-shocked. Sacred Heart Prep, however, kept on plugging away.
Rather than take their final timeout, the Gators came straight down the court, and Brendan Carney drew a foul on a call that could have gone either way with 4.4 seconds left. He made the first free throw to put his team back in front, and though he missed the second, Half Moon Bay’s last-second heave fell short as the Gators survived to win Saturday night’s CCS Division IV first round match-up, 63-62.
“It looked like a bang-bang play,” HMB head coach John Parsons said of the call that sent Carney to the line. “Of course, being on the other side, we hoped it would go the other way or be a no-call.”
Seventh-seeded SHP had led 57-48 with 3:16 left after Carney had split a pair of free throws, but the tenth-seeded Cougars got back-to-back threes from Ben McKnight, who scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter, and Mykola Ediger. Charlie Selna restored a six-point lead on a putback and-1 with 2:10 left, his second three-point play of the quarter.
“Charlie playing to his potential tonight changed the game,” Gators head coach Tony Martinelli said. “He got some key offensive rebounds and a couple and-1 finishes.”
Selna, a 6-foot-3 junior who normally comes off the bench, was forced into the starting lineup with Reece Lindquist out (illness) and performed admirably, scoring 14 points and pulling down 11 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end. He’s had a knack for performing in close games, including an overtime win over Menlo.
“It hadn’t been there up until that Menlo game,” Martinelli said. “It’s been there in spurts since then.”
Even with the Gators up two possessions again, Half Moon Bay (14-11) wouldn’t go away. Ediger cut the lead to 60-56 with a steal and layup, though two free throws by Yianni Gardner with 1:24 left once again put SHP up six. HMB would even turn it back over on the next possession, but a miss when the Gators began to work the shot clock would get the Cougars out in transition and give Lukas Meighan a 3-pointer to cut the lead in half with 48.4 seconds to go. Sacred Heart Prep (14-11) nearly committed a 10-second violation, then turned it over after getting across the timeline. That got the Cougars on another fastbreak, and Ediger hit another three to tie the game at 62.
“It looked bleak a couple times and would have been very easy to let them run away with it,.” Parsons said after his second season leading his alma mater came to an end. “They just fought and fought and clawed and gave us a chance. I know they’re young, but they don’t play young.”
Even with four sophomores starting, the Cougars wouldn’t fold after a back-and-forth game had swung in the hosts’ favor midway through the third. It could have swayed far earlier had Sorie Syme, the lone senior in the lineup, not dominated in the first quarter. He scored 11 of the team’s 16 in the first eight minutes, and he’d finish with 15 points and nine rebounds.
“When the seniors last year left, they told me I had to step up and really lead,” Syme said. “I had to take the sophomores under my wing and set them up for success. I feel like this team’s going to be really good moving forward.”
Though the Cougars finished third in the PAL North, they did have their young group show promise that should be realized in the coming two years.
“It’s not like you see many teams start four sophomores. The future is hopefully bright for us, but we know potential doesn’t mean much until you do something with it,” Parsons said. “We’ll take a couple weeks off, get back in the weight room, get back in the gym and hope for more success next year.”
With those four starters set to return for two more years, the Cougars will have the opportunity to not only develop more, but continue to physically grow as well.
“I’ve been coaching Lukas since he was in fourth grade, and there’s no way in hell I thought he’d be our starting center as a sophomore,” Parsons said. “He likes to call himself six feet, and he’s 5-11, maybe 155 pounds. He’s not afraid of contact, though.”
Even with those obstacles, they were locked into a back-and-forth battle with six ties and eight lead changes. In a span of less than two-and-a-half minutes in the second quarter, the lead changed hands five times as both teams were rolling offensively. Ediger scored 10 of his game-high 22 in the second quarter, while Jai Deshpande scored eight of his 18 for SHP in those eight minutes, including a steal and dunk to put his team up 23-22.
“We just found the open guy,” point guard Ryan von Thaden said. “We weren’t playing isolation ball, we just had to look for the gaps and attack the gaps.”
The Gators finished the night with four scorers in double-figures, led by Deshpande, who hit a 3-pointer to start an 8-0 run in the third that gave the Gators a 43-37 lead with 2:35 left in the third, the largest lead to that point for either team.
“We executed our offense really well,” Martinelli said. “We found Carney a couple times, found Jai a couple times and got them open looks. Even if we didn’t make them, it got our confidence up.”
Yianni Gardner added 11 to round out the SHP attack and had a team-high four assists.
“He’s a baseball player, but he’s also one of the hardest-working basketball players I’ve ever seen,” Martinelli said. “He’s got a motor like no other.”
While the future calling for the Oberlin-bound infielder is on the diamond, Gardner is pleased to be spending at least a couple more days in the gym, as SHP will travel to second-seeded Pacific Grove on Wednesday.
“I’m so excited we get to practice on Monday,” he said.
Meighan finished with 11 for the Cougars, who saw seven players score on the night. Sean Ediger had just two points, but he finished with six assists and seven rebounds, beating his brother by one in those two categories.