CASTROVILLE — Zach Cook’s return to North Monterey County didn’t go as planned.
His former protege, Priscilla Mora, and her plucky Condors made sure of it.
N.M.C. held the Cook-led Watsonville Wildcatz to only five field goals to open up Pacific Coast Athletic League Mission division play with a dominant 40-23 win on Thursday night.
“It was fun,” said Cook, now in his first season with Watsonville (4-11, 0-1). “The gym looks different, but it’s the same crowd, same vibe.”
It was Cook’s first game back in the Condors’ gym since he stepped down from his post as N.M.C.’s coach following the 2015-16 season. Over nine years at N.M.C., Cook won a pair of league titles and 122 games overall while also leading the program to the Central Coast Section playoffs seven times.
He also coached Mora during her final three seasons of high school hoop, helping her earn league M.V.P. honors as a junior.
“He’s always been a big mentor for me,” said Mora, who took over as N.M.C.’s (8-4, 1-0) coach this winter. “Even now he’s still helping me out, even though he’s at a rival school. Even after this loss, he’s still a person I can count on.”
Sophomore point guard Julie Alvizo scored 11 points for the Condors, but was the lone player in double figures for either team in a game bogged down by 57 fouls.
“It was one of the more physical games we’ve played,” Alvizo said. “We have our good games and our bad games. Today it was hard, but we worked together.”
North Monterey County's Sam Flores, center, wades through a trio of Watsonville defenders during Thursday night's PCAL-M game in Castroville. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian
Sam Flores added eight points off the bench for N.M.C., which jumped out to an 11-3 lead at the end of the first quarter and cruised to its fifth consecutive win.
Watsonville freshman point guard Rylee Gomez and senior forward Ruby Galvan scored six points apiece, and junior forward Janet Arias chipped in five points.
The Wildcatz had good looks at the basket, but struggled to put the ball in the bucket. They went more than 15 minutes without a made field goal in the first half and trailed 21-8 at the intermission.
Also hurting Watsonville’s cause: a 13-of-31 night at the free-throw line.
“We played tough the whole game, but we should’ve made our free throws,” Gomez said.
N.M.C. also had a tough night at the line — it shot 13-of-41 from the charity stripe — but the Condors dominated the offensive boards, won most of the 50-50 balls and forced several turnovers to produce easy buckets near the hoop.
“Our defense will lead to our offense,” Mora said. “If we’re constantly getting steals, if we’re around the ball being active, that’s going to help us on the offensive end.”
The Condors last season took their lumps in the now-defunct Monterey Bay League Gabilan division, finishing tied for fourth with a 3-9 record. Following the creation of the PCAL, a 33-school super league featuring members of the MBL and Mission Trail Athletic League, the Condors were given a jolt of confidence by being placed in the second-toughest division.
Though they lost their front court starters in Jocelyn Cazarez and Cassady Healy, the Condors believe they should be in the thick of the PCAL-Mission title hunt.
“Why not?” Alvizo said. “We have to win every game. We try to do the best we can every game.”
Watsonville's Tea Villalta (3) drives on North Monterey County's Faith Mora during Thursday night's PCAL-M game in Castroville. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian
Watsonville, too, lost plenty after notching its first CCS win since 2008 last season. The Wildcatz, who have only two seniors, had to say goodbye to four starters, and welcome in eight underclassmen.
“It’s a learning process for a lot of our girls,” Cook said. “It’s a whole new squad. It’s a whole new team.”
Watsonville hosts Alvarez on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
N.M.C. travels to Christopher at the same date and time.