St. Francis junior forward Jason Gallo (31) flies in for a layup during the first half of Thursday night's SCCAL tournament semifinal against San Lorenzo Valley at Scotts Valley High. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian
SCOTTS VALLEY — The St. Francis Sharks are on the doorstep of perfection.
All that’s left is a shot at retribution.
The top-seeded Sharks will play the No. 3-seeded Santa Cruz Cardinals for the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League tournament championship after holding off the scrappy No. 4-seeded San Lorenzo Valley Cougars, 59-50, on Thursday at Scotts Valley.
Tonight’s SCCAL championship, which will tipoff at 7 p.m. at Cabrillo College, will be a rematch of last year’s title game at Kaiser Permanente Arena in which the Sharks (22-2) heartbreakingly lost via a controversial buzzer-beater.
That loss, which clinched the perfect SCCAL season for the Cardinals (15-11), is still plenty fresh in the Sharks’ minds.
“It’s like the overtime we never got,” said St. Francis senior point guard Sandor Rene Rodriguez. “We’re gonna take it like it’s a brand new game. We’re ready this year.”
St. Francis has beaten Santa Cruz twice this season. The first was a 31-point drubbing but the second saw the Sharks only win by eight.
The Cardinals have been steadily improving since the midway-point of their SCCAL season and have won six consecutive games, including Thursday night’s 41-39 upset of Aptos in the tournament semis.
St. Francis head coach Ed Kelly downplayed the notion of a heated rematch.
“They’re such a different team than they were last year,” Kelly said. “We’re just happy to be in the game. I know that people are looking for a rematch but we’re just happy we got over our hurdle and we don’t need a ticket to get into the game.”
St. Francis junior forwards Chase Watkins (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Jason Gallo (17 points, 13 rebounds) each recorded double-doubles, while Rene Rodriguez scored 11 points and made four assists.
The Sharks trailed for a majority of the first half and went into the break down four, as they struggled to keep SLV’s (15-10) big-bodied front line off the glass and out of the paint.
Once the second half came around, however, St. Francis started to resemble the team which mowed down SCCAL squads by double digits en route to a perfect 12-0 regular season.
Their defense was physical, pesky and active and their offense was aggressive, constantly probing inside for easy buckets around the rim.
Rene Rodriguez’s 3-pointer midway through the third quarter not only gave the Sharks the lead for good but finally got the St. Francis fans back into the game.
“We were a little scared in the beginning but once we were in the locker room we started to get our heads out of our rear ends,” Gallo said.
SLV cut the deficit to three during the opening minute of the final stanza but the Sharks responded with a trio of buckets to push the lead to nine. They led by 11 and sunk their free throws late to shut the door on any chance of an upset.
Senior guard Tanner Murray (14), senior wing Joe Oard (13) and senior forward Jackson Turner (10) all scored in double-figures for the Cougars, who had the momentum coming out of the half but turned it over eight times during the difference-making third quarter.
“Kudos to SLV, they gave us all they had,” Rene Rodriguez said. “They’re a great team. It was a great game but I’m ready for this rematch.”
Initial thinking had St. Francis set for a third meeting with Aptos (17-7), which had finished second in the SCCAL regular season and beaten Santa Cruz twice. But the Cardinals instead punched their ticket to their fourth straight SCCAL tournament championship on Henry Terrazas’ buzzer-beating shot.
The Mariners led on three occasions in the fourth quarter and had a shot to win the game with less than 30 seconds left to play but couldn’t get a good look at the basket.
Junior guard Rashaun Wooden scored a game-high 14 points and junior center Cole Welle added seven for Aptos, which will find out the details of their first Central Coast Section playoff game on Sunday.
The lead switched hands 10 times throughout, including six times during the seesaw second quarter, and neither team led by more than six.
Aptos senior guard Jack Wolf split a pair of free throws late in the second to give the Mariners a two-point lead but Santa Cruz junior guard Max Dehart swished a 3-pointer just before the half to put the Cardinals up 22-21 heading into the intermission.
Aptos trailed for the entirety of the third quarter but took the lead during the opening minute of the fourth on Wooden’s jumper.
The lead switched hands two more times before Santa Cruz had the final shot with 15.4 seconds left. Dehart’s floater missed its mark and Welle came down with a rebound but was stripped from behind by Santa Cruz senior center Ryan Samuelson.
Terrazas grabbed the loose ball and nailed a turnaround jumper as the clock expired.
Aptos head coach Brian Bowyer and Welle both pleaded to the officials for a foul but nothing was called.For the complete article see the 02-18-2017 issue.
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st. francis basketball sandor rene rodriguez ed kelly jason gallo santa cruz sccal santa cruz coast athletic league tournament