Since the introduction of the Open Division, the CCS semifinals have been a complex set of games, with different enrollment divisions allotted different numbers of qualified teams for the state tournament. Before the Open Division was created for the 2013 season, the semifinals doubled as qualifiers for the CIF State Tournament. This season, the CCS has upped its number of slots in the state tournament, so all section finalists will be joining the eight Open teams in the state tournament. For the first time since 2012, Thursday’s semifinals will double as state tournament qualifiers across all five divisions.
No. 3 Palo Alto (16-9) vs. No. 2 Carlmont (22-5), 5:30 p.m. at Fremont HS
Arguably the most compelling matchup across all five divisions, the Vikings and Scots met all the way back on December 1, a game Carlmont won 68-54. Since then, Palo Alto has transformed, welcoming six football players to a team that was already in a transitional period under first-year head coach Rodney Tention. The Vikings are playing some of their best basketball as of late, winning six straight, including victories against the likes of Cupertino and Mountain View. A win would be a tremendous feat for a young team that has no returning starters from last year’s NorCal finalist, and with five juniors seeing significant minutes it would paint a bright future.
The Scots, on the other hand, are trying to advance farther in the postseason than they ever have. If there’s a time to do it, it would be with a trio of three-year starters. They’ve lost just five times on the year, and three of those were to Menlo-Athertton. The other two were to a Stuart Hall team that will be playing for an NCS title this weekend and a Churchill County (Nevada) team that’s entering the postseason with a 23-2 record. Palo Alto also lost to M-A in a 50-49 nailbiter on January 5, six days before the Scots would give the Bears a scare in the closest of their clashes.
No. 4 Cupertino (16-9) vs. No. 1 Piedmont Hills (21-4), 7 p.m. at Fremont HS
The Pioneers have a chance to go farther than they have a long time, but to do so, they’ll need to take down the top seed in Division I. Cupertino hasn’t played for a section title since 1989, and the Pioneers haven’t won one since back-to-back championships in 1975 and 1976. If they beat Piedmont Hills, it’ll be with suffocating defense. They held Salinas to just 29 points in Tuesday’s quarterfinal and allow an average of just 43.5 points per game on the year. First-year head coach Tim Ewers has picked up right where Pete Simos had left off at Piedmont Hills, with a team that loves to shoot from the perimeter. Of the Pirates’ four losses, the first came when their lone returning starter, Brandon Lowe, went down with an injury and the next two came without him. They don’t want to play in the slow type of games that Cupertino prefers, but they have a pair of 44-41 wins, including one in overtime.
No. 7 Aragon (12-14) vs. No. 3 Mountain View (21-4), 5:30 p.m. at Gunn HS
The Dons are the ultimate party-crashers this year, not only ending Valley Christian’s season but preventing what would have been an enticing matchup between the Warriors and Spartans. Instead, Aragon will face Mountain View with a chance to continue an improbable run for a team that had finished seventh in the PAL South. It should be a battle of stars as Aragon’s Sam Manu and MV’s Sam Tobin duke it out, but if they match each other, it may come down to players like David Avak and Jailen Daniel-Dalton.
No. 4 Leigh (13-12) vs. No. 1 Leland (23-2), 7 p.m. at Gunn HS
The two regular season meetings between the Longhorns and Chargers couldn’t have been more different from each other. Leigh won the first, 73-70, to take what seemed like a commanding lead in the BVAL Mt. Hamilton Division, but Leland won 72-53 at the Longhorns’ home to wrap up the league title. Sohan Kshirsagar scored 24 in that game and Shane McKnight added 20. That was the last of four consecutive losses for Leigh, and the ‘Horns did at least close the regular season with back-to-back wins, and they picked up a third win over Willow Glen on Tuesday to reach the semifinals.
No. 4 Hillsdale (17-8) vs. No. 1 Monterey (20-4), 5:30 p.m. at Aptos HS
Like many of Thursday’s matchups, Hillsdale and Monterey will combine to showcase the storylines that have been present across the other divisions. It’s a rematch of a game played earlier in the season, and it’s between a team that’s had a lot of recent playoff success and a team that hasn’t been to the state tournament since any of its players were born. Monterey won the 2017 Division III title and lost last year’s championship game in heartbreaking fashion, while Hillsdale’s last section title appearance came in 1997, when the Knights won their second title in three years. These teams met back on December 28 at the St. Francis Joe Schram Holiday Classic, a game Monterey won 60-42 by racing out to a 23-9 lead and holding a 50-28 lead through three quarters.
No. 3 Soquel (16-10) @ No. 2 Aptos (17-10), 7 p.m.
One of the hottest teams in the section, the Mariners have won seven straight games, and they’ve beaten Soquel three times on the year, allowing just 30 points in each of their last two meetings. While St. Ignatius normally hosts the Division III games, three of the teams in this year’s semifinals are from the southern end of the section, so Aptos made a logical host site. Soquel’s best offensive performance against the Mariners actually came at Aptos, a game that the hosts won 53-47.
No. 7 Sacred Heart Prep (15-11) vs. No. 3 Santa Cruz (20-7), 5:30 p.m. at Hartnell College
The Gators hosted the Cardinals in December, a game Santa Cruz won after leading by as much as 23, but SHP is playing well lately. Five players scored at least nine points in Tuesday’s win at second-seeded Pacific Grove. Charlie Selna has been especially strong in the post, a welcome sight that will be much-needed against a Santa Cruz team that attacks the hoop relentlessly. Strong play from Selna and Reece Lindquist will be critical if the Gators are going to slow down Robert Bishop III, Jeremiah Elmore and Zavier Hill-Kemp.
No. 5 King’s Academy (19-7) vs. No. 1 Carmel (22-4), 7 p.m. at Hartnell College
A rematch of the section’s Division V football championship is fittingly being played between two teams with tons of football players on their roster. Both teams had mammoth contributions from sophomore football players in quarterfinal wins on Tuesday, with Noah Short scoring 34 for TKA and J.T. Byrne leading Carmel with 22 to take down Menlo. Though the Padres are the top seed in the field, both of the Knights’ wins against Menlo in WBAL play came by wider margins than Carmel’s 59-52 win on Tuesday, a game where the Padres led by 15 before Menlo clawed back to tie it in the fourth.
No. 4 Stevenson (16-9) vs. No. 1 Eastside (16-7), 5:30 p.m. at Woodside Priory
The top-seeded Panthers were in a surprisingly close game on Tuesday, winning by just seven against a Pinewood team that they had reached a running clock against twice in WBAL play. Stevenson, on the other hand, cruised to a 61-36 win over 12th-seeded Pacific Collegiate. An upset win would put the Pirates in their third section championship game. They got there in 1990 and 2015, losing both.
No. 3 Nueva (20-4) vs. No. 2 St. Francis SCP (17-6), 7 p.m. at Woodside Priory
In just three years as a full-fledged CCS member, the Mavericks have made three playoff appearances, and in the past two, they ran into the Sharks and lost both times. 2017 was a 64-36 blowout loss to the eventual section champions and state finalists, while last year was a 54-53 game in overtime. Kyle McGraw scored 28 in that loss, and as a senior, there’s no way he’ll be going without a fight.