Halfway through its Central Coast Section Division IV semifinal game against Carmel, the top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep boys’ basketball team looked lost.
The offense was out of sync and when the Gators weren’t turning the ball over, they weren’t putting it in the hoop.
The defense fared little better and yet, when the horn sounded for halftime, the Gators were only down 21-17.
Just 16 minutes later, the Gators walked off the court with a 78-39 win and Gators coach Tony Martinelli had one simple explanation for the amazing turnaround from one half to the other.
“It helps to start hitting your shots,” Martinelli said.
But it wasn’t just the shots starting to fall that sparked the Gators (24-2) on Tuesday night. Their defense literally canceled out the Padres in the second half, often intercepting the inbounds pass after a made basket and turning it into another quick score.
It is a scenario Martinelli knows his team cannot count on repeating Friday when it plays No. 2 Santa Cruz at Santa Clara University at 4:45 p.m. for the Division IV section title. Regardless of Friday’s results, the Gators will be playing in the NorCal playoffs next week.
“Santa Cruz is a mirror image of us,” Martinelli said after Tuesday’s game at Menlo School, where just hours before Santa Cruz (22-6) had dispatched Palma 76-52. “Friday’s game will come down to who plays defense better. That will be the team that wins.”
Despite his team’s poor start Tuesday, Martinelli was actually happy the game was close that deep into the contest.
“We haven’t had that many tight games this year,” Martinelli said. “It was good for us to be down at half and have to come out and play from behind.”
The McConnell brothers — twin seniors Will (18 points) and Reed (8), and junior Cole (18) — combined to outscore Carmel’s entire offense on Tuesday and senior Cal Baloff added 13 points as the Gators displayed just how dangerous an offense they are.
Santa Cruz has two double-digit scorers in Zen Maki (10.8) and Keith Williams (10.4) and are led in rebounding by Clayton Conroy (5.3 per game). The trio will be key to the Cardinals’ efforts to upset the Gators and claim the section crown for themselves.
“Its going to be a great game,” Martinelli said.
The two teams met last year in the CCS playoffs in a game won by the Gators 55-54.
Sacred Heart Prep vs. Santa Cruz
WHAT: Central Coast Section Division IV championship
WHEN: Friday, 4:45 p.m.
WHERE: Santa Clara University
NOTES: Sacred Heart Prep beat Santa Cruz 55-54 in the CCS semifinals last season. ... Sacred Heart Prep turned a 21-17 halftime deficit into a 78-39 rout against Carmel. ... Santa Cruz knocked off Palma 76-52 to reach Friday’s championship.