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SAN MATEO — After splitting the regular-season series, with the home team winning each battle comfortably, the PAL Championship between Sequoia and Menlo-Atherton was expected to be a fight to the finish.

Played on a neutral court at Hillsdale, the matchup didn’t live up to expectations; it blew them away.

Sequoia won 68-65 thanks to Zach Bene’s 3-pointer with two minutes remaining and excellent defense down the stretch.

The lead changed eight times and the score was tied on 10 separate occasions. The play of the night was a soaring chasedown block by two-time PAL South MVP Eric Norton, but Norton’s childhood friend, Sequoia point guard N’Jai LeBlanc Jr., had an answer on most occasions.

All five of his assists came on brilliant passes, and the senior led all scorers with 18 points.

The score was tied at 22 through one quarter and tied at 52 through three. Sequoia (23-4) held a 39-37 lead at halftime on a spinning layup by Ziggy Lauese after Menlo-Atherton had tied the game with a 10-2 run. Sequoia’s 35-27 lead with 4:39 remaining in the second quarter was the largest lead held by either team.

Lauese finished with 17 points and a game-high 18 rebounds. His uncle, head coach Fine Lauese, wasn’t worried when asked about his team’s playoff fate.

“We’re just going to enjoy the win tonight and let the people at the meeting decide tomorrow,” he said.

With the win, Sequoia will get consideration for the CCS Open Division, meaning it’ll face top competition but be guaranteed a trip to the State Tournament.

Menlo-Atherton (22-5) is considered an Open Division lock by virtue of its regular-season PAL South title.

Head coach Mike Molieri credited his opponent, saying, “It was a great game for the fans, and they made one more play than we did. Congratulations to Fine, he’s built a great team.”

Sophomore James Beckwith led the Bears with 14 points, all in the first 10 minutes. Kai Winterling scored 13 and Norton added 10.

Bene scored 10 for Sequoia (23-4), while Myles Nunez, who transferred to Sequoia from M-A after his freshman year, scored nine in the first half.

Menlo-Atherton 60, South San Francisco 41

The Menlo-Atherton girls cruised past South San Francisco for the PAL Championship. Greer Hoyem led all scorers with 19 points while Carly McLanahan and Ofa Sili each scored 14 for the victorious Bears.

M-A closed the first half on a 17-3 run after the Warriors had tied the game at 14. South San Francisco (23-4) opened the second half by scoring five of the first seven points, but lost star guard Brittney Cedeno to a leg injury 29 seconds into the third quarter.

M-A went on a 17-0 run after Cedeno’s departure. The 5-9 junior had led the Warriors to a PAL North title and led her team on Saturday with 10 points.

South City is expected to receive the top seed in the CCS Division III Tournament while Menlo-Atherton (26-1) is pegged for the Open Division.

Menlo-Atherton 55, Jefferson 50 (Friday)

Though Jefferson was eliminated in Friday’s PAL Tournament semifinals, the Grizzlies pushed PAL South champion Menlo-Atherton to the brink, keeping the game tied until the final minute in a 55-50 defeat.

Few gave the Grizzlies any chance against a Menlo-Atherton team that had beaten them by 14 in early January and had only improved since then. It turned out that Jefferson had improved as well.

Point guard Daniel Benjamin is running the offense after playing football in the fall. Benjamin scored just five points but held two-time South Division MVP Eric Norton scoreless in the first half. Norton finished with 11 points as Benjamin spent much of the second half in foul trouble.

M-A had no answer for Jefferson’s 6-5 center, Rodney Lawrence. The junior finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. Mark Petalver led Jefferson with 17 points.

Jefferson will need that sort of effort in the CCS Division III Playoffs against the likes of Sacred Heart Cathedral.

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