KEZAR PAVILION — Saturday afternoon’s game between Stuart Hall and University may have not meant much in the grand scheme of the North Coast Section Division V playoff picture, but by the roars of the crowd at Kezar Pavilion and the reaction of the Stuart Hall fans, who rushed the court after a dramatic 17-point comeback, there’s no doubt the BCL West Tournament meant quite a bit to both teams.
Having won the two previous regular-season meetings in tight games, the Knights found themselves down 17 for much of the second quarter, but Stuart Hall (24-4) was able to recover and play a brilliant second half, rising late for a 54-49 win.
“What a great atmosphere,” head coach Charley Johnson said. “When you have that kind of ultimate team success, it’s more than just the team. It’s the fans, it’s the teachers, it’s the faculty, the bus drivers, facility people, everyone. I think a lot of that community was on display tonight.”
The Knights got 3-pointers from Tomas Wolber to bookend a 10-0 run that cut the deficit to three late in the third quarter, and Wolber had three straight assists in the fourth to put his team ahead. He fed Spencer O’Brien-Steele off an inbound to cut it to 41-39, got a rebound and sent a full-court pass to sophomore Nigel Burris to tie the game, and out of a timeout, he hooked up with Miles Amos on the play of the night, a monster alley-oop to put Stuart Hall on top for the first time on the day.
“We talked about the NorCal Championship from last year where we were down 17,” Wolber said. “We knew if we could do it then, we could do it now. We came out with energy, and everything flowed.”
Wolber then hit another 3-pointer to stretch the lead to five, and with Amos and Burris combining to make all six of their free throws in the final minute, University (19-9) had the ball just once within three, and with strong help defense, the Knights were able to deny Max Fried a path to the hoop.
The Knights managed to extend their winning streak to 15 games despite not only trailing by double-digits for the first time in 2019, but looking absolutely listless in the process. The Red Devils raced out to a 21-9 lead through a quarter and got the first five points of the second on a lay-in by Christian Heng and a Ren Zanze three.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth,” Johnson said.
While most high school teams that erase large deficits do so by at least whittling the lead down to an extent before halftime, that wasn’t the case for Stuart Hall. University sophomore Raki Cabrera-Scarlata had a lot to do with that, scoring all nine of his points in the first half, including a falling layup in the first quarter and a huge 3-pointer in the second to answer one from Burris and extend the lead to 31-14.
“Our urgency was really low and they hit a lot of great shots,” Burris said.
The engines finally got rolling in the third quarter as Amos and Alex Byrd scored to cut the lead to 11, but three minutes into the second half, a 3-pointer by Charley Moore and a Fried basket in the paint made it 38-22 before Wolber ignited the huge Stuart Hall run.
The final basket of the third came from O’Brien-Steele, who cut the lead to 41-37 after another Zanze 3-pointer. O’Brien-Steele missed almost all of December with injuries and needed significant time to get up to full speed. He hasn’t returned to the starting lineup, but he’s been getting as many minutes as most of the starters as of late, and turned in one of his best performances of the year on Saturday with 12 points.
“At first, not being a starter kind of bothered me, but I took it as what it is and I’m content with my spot right now,” the senior forward said. “I think we’re playing well as a team as a result of it.”
He was primarily tasked with locking down Fried, but he also credited the strong help defense his teammates provided to hold the University star in check. Fried still managed to collect 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Burris led all scorers with 18 points, scoring seven in each of the middle two quarters. Amos scored 13, including 10 in the second half, and he was still hungry for more.
“If we play them again, I expect a bloodbath,” he said. “It’s going to be a gutty game.”
That possible section championship rematch would give the Red Devils a fourth shot at the Knights, and a chance to put some hardware in a trophy case that’s looking a little barren at the moment.
“We’ve won either the regular season or the league tournament 10 out of the last 11 years,” University head coach Randy Bessolo said. “For us, this is a dose of humble pie, and it’s disappointing. They ramped up the physicality, and we couldn’t withstand it.”