Jefferson goes down fighting in CCS semifinals

Though Jefferson’s season came to an end on Wednesday night, it wasn’t without a heck of a fight.

Even Monterey head coach Greg Daniels complimented the boys from Daly City, saying, “They play really hard. They play scrappy. We kept thinking we had put them away, and they kept battling back. They won 18 games for a reason.”

The Grizzlies trailed by as many as 10 in the fourth quarter but never relented, cutting Monterey’s lead to one and staying within one basket down the stretch before ultimately falling to the second-seeded Toreadores, 75-69, in the CCS Division III Semifinals at St. Ignatius.

After an Eldrin Arelis 3-pointer gave Monterey its largest lead of the game at 53-43, third-seeded Jefferson responded with an 11-2 run to cut the Monterey lead to one with 3:50 to go.

The Toreadores responded with a 10-2 run of their own to stretch the lead to 65-56, but still, Jefferson (18-10) didn’t quit.

The Grizzlies played the foul game to perfection over the final 70 seconds and cut the lead to 72-69 with 28.2 left on a Kenneth Lealao 3-pointer. Unfortunately for Jefferson, Monterey finished the game off at the charity stripe, advancing to the CCS Division III Championship and the state tournament while ending the Grizzlies’ season.

The comeback wasn’t surprising to Jefferson head coach John Falabella.

“We’ve been down in games the whole year,” said the fourth-year head coach. “We only worried about the score at the end of the game, and usually we ended up on top. Being down 10 wasn’t an issue.”

Ultimately, Monterey’s fast-paced style was difficult for Jefferson to overcome.

Jefferson only won five games when allowing 50 or more points.

Monterey senior Kobe Ordonio led all scorers with 29 points, aided by his 10-for-12 performance at the charity stripe. He also tallied seven assists and eight rebounds. His brother Tahjae, a sophomore, scored 20 points and sank six 3-pointers. In all, Monterey (23-3) made 13 shots from beyond the arc. That shooting, combined with 18 offensive rebounds for Monterey, proved to be the difference on Wednesday night.

Though a season-ending loss is always a disappointment, Jefferson’s 2016-17 campaign was defined by progress.

“We were 6-18 my first year. We went 11-14 the next year,” said Falabella. “We were 19-8 last year and went 18-10 this year against a much tougher schedule.”

Best of all, both of Jefferson’s leading scorers will be back next year.

Point guard Daniel Benjamin (22 points, 8 rebounds) and center Rodney Lawrence (12 points, 9 rebounds) are juniors.

Finding complementary players will be the challenge for Falabella and his staff. The other five regulars in Jefferson’s rotation were seniors. Lealao led those seniors on Wednesday night with 10 points.

Ethan Kassel

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