CONCORD — Weston Ranch was the superior team for 24 minutes of Wednesday’s CIF Open Division First Round game, but it was the other eight minutes that keyed the De La Salle Spartans to a 48-42 win, snapping the Cougars’ 30-game win streak and ending their season.
The host Spartans went on a 17-0 run between the middle of the first quarter and start of the second quarter, then led by as much as 16 before the sixth-seeded Cougars progressively climbed back into the game.
“We talk all the time, you can lose a game at any point, not just the last two minutes,” Weston Ranch head coach Chris Teevan said. “We wanted to not have to play catch-up, and we were playing catch-up the whole game.”
De La Salle point guard Thomas Gregorios scored 10 of his game-high 16 points in the first quarter as the third-seeded Spartans scored the final 15 points of the first quarter to take a 19-8 lead, then got the first basket of the second on a layup from freshman Noah Clifford. The lead reached its largest point just over two minutes into the quarter when a Jack Byers 3-pointer made it 26-10.
“You can’t make those mistakes against one of the top six teams,” Teevan said.
Sophomore Donjae’ Lindsey would score six points before halftime and Lydell King would hit a three just before the buzzer to get Weston Ranch (31-2) within 10, and as the Cougars started to slash to the hoop, they managed to close the gap.
“We took a lot of bad threes in the beginning,” sophomore Mi’Son Coilton said. “We wanted to get to the paint and go inside-out.”
On a roster with nobody over 6-foot-3, Coilton and reserve Raul Melgarejo took on the role of defending the Spartans in the post, limiting Clifford, Tim Kostolansky and Andrew Flannigan to a combined 15 points. Four straight free throws by Coilton cut it to 35-31 late in the third, though a basket from Flannigan would bring the lead back to six before the start of the fourth.
A long jumper by Cade Arbogast would put De La Salle (29-3) up 39-31 early in the fourth, and they’d lead by seven after a basket from Gregorios, but the Cougars weren’t done. Gavin Wilburn’s and-1 with 3:56 left cut it to 41-37, and the lead was trimmed to two on a Wilburn three with 90 seconds left.
Clifford would come up with an offensive rebound at the end of the shot clock and was fouled with 33.4 to go as the Cougars wanted to keep the ball away from Gregorios. The towering freshman would miss the free throw, but race after the long rebound and recover it on the wing. Most 6-5, 230-pounders can’t move like Clifford does, and it was his speed and agility that helped save the game.
“My dad put me in soccer when I was little, so that helped with my speed, and the coaches here have helped me more with it,” Clifford said.
Clifford was also able to play key minutes by defending the small and scrappy Cougars, an unusual role for a team that’s accustomed to facing huge post players in the EBAL.
“It’s not something that we see a lot,” he said. “Most teams we face usually have at least one big.”
Gregorios made both of his free throws, a fitting way to effectively seal the game after he had created the gap early on.
“We wanted to attack in transition, and there were lanes open,” Gregorios said of his strong start. “Feeding the post opened up more lanes.”
No other Spartan scored more than six points, but the 16 from Gregorios (10 in the first and six in the fourth), combined with his ability to distribute the ball, made the difference.
“Our depth has been big for us this year,” he said.
It meant the end of the season for a Weston Ranch team that starts just one senior, Devin Small. For all the returning talent on the roster, Teevan had plenty of praise for his seniors, including the ones that saw no playing time on Wednesday.
“Those guys don’t play as much, but it’s going to be hard to replace a lot of the intangibles that people don’t see on the court,” he said. “The other four seniors have sacrificed playing time, starting, points, all of that.”
Wilburn led the Cougars with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Lindsey scored 12.