MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — The West Catholic Athletic League race has been a mess through the first two weeks of league play, with five teams jockeying for position at the top.
The expected candidates are there with Bellarmine, Mitty, Riordan and Serra ... oh, and St. Francis is there as well.
Expected to struggle after graduating 11 seniors from a sixth-place team, the Lancers are tied for first in one of the Bay Area’s best leagues through five games, continuing a run that nobody but the players themselves could have expected with a 75-65 win over Sacred Heart Cathedral.
“It’s been great,” head coach Mike Motil said after the win. “I really enjoy coaching these guys. They’re attentive and they take coaching well.”
It’s been a similar combination every game for St. Francis (12-3, 4-1 WCAL), a team that’s shown off remarkable balance and chemistry with a group almost evenly distributed between sophomores, juniors and seniors. A couple of the high-flying sophomores will make some big plays and one of the seniors will provide composure and leadership, rising to the occasion in key moments.
“With 11 guys graduating, we knew we had to step up as seniors to lead the team, and all the young guys have done a great job working hard in the weight room and in practice every day,” Kyle Rosecrans said. “They put us in position to win. We’ve got a next man up mentality, and it’s not a ‘me’ team, it’s a ‘we’ team.”
In a rare matinee league game on Friday, that was exactly how the Lancers got it done, with three sophomores combining for 33 points and Rosecrans dropping in a game-high 20 by knocking down six 3-pointers, all while collecting a game-high 10 rebounds against a Fightin’ Irish team that was thin in the middle.
With their top rebounder, Tyrice Ivy Jr., out for the foreseeable future due to football commitments (he’s a Division I wide receiver prospect), the visitors were harassed and throttled on the boards to the tune of a 49-26 gap in rebounding, with Rosecrans grabbing his double-double and sophomore Isaiah Kerr coming up one rebound shy of the honor, finishing with 11 points and nine boards. In all, the hosts had a 19-6 advantage on the offensive glass, and they got a pair of those from Kerr when it was needed most in the final minutes.
“They’re tough to rebound against defensively,” Motil said. “They’re all spread out on the arc and they come from everywhere to hit the boards.You really have to be disciplined and make sure you’re blocking people out on the perimeter. I’d say they’re more difficult to rebound against than bigger teams.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral (5-9, 1-4) had cut the gap to as little as two in the fourth quarter and trailed just 66-62 with 2:28 left after sophomore Ray John Spears sank a pair of free throws for the last of his game-high 23 points. Kerr was quick to answer by scoring off the glass, and after slowing the Irish down with a 2-3 zone that had finally stopped SHC’s offensive momentum, the Lancers got a stop and ended up getting Kerr to the line after being fouled on a third-chance putback attempt. He’d make just one of two free throws, but the time taken off the clock was just as valuable as the points and the Irish would only get back within four on a Miles Jones three with 57.6 seconds left. Trevor Leon and Harlan Banks would break the press to help close out the game and extend the eighth-ranked Lancers’ winning streak to five games, matching their longest on the season.
“It just slowed the tempo,” SHC head coach Sean MacKay said of the zone, which helped seal the win for the Lancers.
Just as they finished the fourth quarter strong, the hosts also closed the third with clutch plays. SHC went on a 10-0 run as the Lancers went scoreless for three-and-a-half minutes, a colossal drought considering the game’s tempo, but Rosecrans snapped the dry spell with his sixth and final 3-pointer to make it 52-44. Ryan Daly, who spent his first two years wearing Irish green before transferring to St. Francis, took a slick pass from Banks and finished it with a two-handed dunk, and after a Spears 3-pointer, Nolan Nepomuceno picked the perfect time for his only basket of the day, closing the quarter with a 3-pointer off the last of Banks’ four assists.
Having trailed by as much as 11 in the first quarter and 15 in the third, the visitors weren’t going to drive home in rush hour traffic before a solid fight, and they went on an 8-0 run to trim the lead to 59-57 with 6:06 left as Spears hit back-to-back threes, with the second off a Jones rebound, and Kori McCoy made a pair of free throws. St. Francis would go back up by six thanks to four points from Banks, with the Sacred Heart Prep transfer displaying tremendous instincts in just his sixth game by corralling a loose ball in the key, realizing the shot clock was about to expire and laying it in for a 66-60 advantage.
Darnay McPherson scored five early points for the 10th-ranked Irish as the guests opened up a quick 7-2 lead, but St. Francis would answer with a 20-4 run, including Rosecrans’ first three connections from behind the arc. McPherson’s and-1 early in the second quarter would cut it to 26-20, part of the Riordan transfer’s 16-point first half, but a Vince Barringer 3-pointer would kick off a 9-2 run that stretched the lead all the way to 35-22 with a Daly up-and-under. McPherson, who scored 22 on the game, would get the last five points of the half, but Nick Weitzel had put the Lancers up 39-25 before McPherson sent the visitors into the break on a positive note.
Weitzel had just four points on the day, the only points for any of the four members of the St. Francis junior class, but he also had six rebounds, with four on the offensive end. In addition to the big games from Rosecrans and Kerr, Banks finished with 13, Daly added 11 and Barringer scored nine in the first half. Kyle Crawford added 10 for the guests, going 6-for-6 on free throws. SHC went 23-of-31 at the line while the Lancers struggled to convert after fouls, going just 10-for-18 on the home rims. Friday’s contest marked the 11th straight head-to-head meeting ending in a Lancer victory, with the last seven coming against MacKay, a St. Francis alum himself.
“We wanted to stop the run-and-gun and emphasize going to the boards,” said Daly, who had six rebounds and five assists in his second game since returning from a back injury.
St. Francis will have a pair of difficult tests next week, hosting Serra (12-3, 4-1) on Tuesday and traveling to Riordan (12-3, 4-1) on Friday. SHC will face Oakland (9-11) in the MLK “I Have a Dream” Classic at Merritt College on Monday and host Valley Christian (8-7, 0-5) Tuesday night.