By JOHN MURPHY
March 3, 2013
Pete Harames, back in the 1960s, played for a gutsy Capuchino High team nicknamed the "Little Green Giants." The entire starting five stood 6-feet or shorter and yet the Mustangs finished an impressive second in league.
Infusing some of that same tenacity in the Burlingame boys in his first year as coach, Harames on Saturday led the Panthers to their first section title in history, defeating Santa Cruz 54-51 at Foothill College.
"We came out here and we wanted to win," said Burlingame guard Mikel Florio-Cruz said who scored 11 points and dived for numerous loose balls. "We knew we could do something to (go down) in the history of Burlingame. We knew this was our time and we wouldn't give that up."
The Panthers had been to the section title game six times since 2003 and lost each time. Burlingame, after losing star Frankie Ferrari to Riordan High and undergoing a coaching change, started slowly with a 5-7 record but eventually jelled.
"This means so much," Mikel-Flores said. "Our team has been through so much with the whole coaching staff change and everything that's gone on with the whole program. New makeup, new coach and we just embraced it. We made it the best we could and we're here right now."
Said Burlingame guard Connor Haupt who scored a game-high 20 points: "It (the coaching change) was definitely a transition period, but we hit our stride and we couldn't be luckier to have such a great coach. Mr. Harames is top of the line, a great mentor. He was tough on us at practice, but he was behind us 100 percent of the way."
Burlingame, after the final seconds ticked off the clock, rushed the court and melded into a sweaty mass of jubilation.
Haupt's two clutch free throws with five seconds left gave the Panthers some breathing room at the end.
"I was just thinking about knocking them down and winning the championship," Haupt said.
Santa Cruz was down 38-25 late in the third quarter, but rallied. It took the lead, 44-43, with 4:08 left on a jumper by Walker Nodine before Burlingame seized it back on a Haupt 15-footer and teammate Will Dobson's baseline jumper. The Panthers then secured the game from the free throw line. .
"We knew they were going to make a run -- they're a good team," Haupt said. "But we stayed calm and were able to seal the win. This is the happiest feeling I've ever had in my life."
Although most coaches typically agonize about a lead melting away, Harames said it made the game more interesting and stirred his competitive juices.
"As a coach it's better," he said. "When it's that close, it's a game. Now every possession means something."
Santa Cruz coach Patrick Jones, a portrait of class, expressed pride in his team as he exited the Cardinal locker room.
"I was pleased with the way we responded (after being down)," Jones said. "We had a tough first half, but I challenged them at halftime and they rose to the challenge."
Burlingame 6-foot-7 center Nick Loew led the Panthers (21-8) with 17 points and 16 rebounds.
Kaijae Yee-Stephens paced Santa Cruz (19-11) with 14 points, Kiree Hutchings had 13 points and Thatcher Sammet 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Both teams now advance to the NorCal regionals.
John Murphy may be reached at jmurphy@Prep2Prep.com.