Eric Luis/Special to The ExaminerBalboa senior forward John Bender gets to the hoop for an easy bucket against San Rafael on Tuesday. Balboa moved to 4-0 with the victory.

Eric Luis/Special to The ExaminerBalboa senior forward John Bender gets to the hoop for an easy bucket against San Rafael on Tuesday. Balboa moved to 4-0 with the victory.

Balboa might be small in size, but plays big in win against San Rafael

At first glance, the Balboa High School boys’ basketball team appears to be entirely composed of guards.

The Bucs don’t have a starter above 6 feet, but it was the undersized, yet athletic Balboa forwards that came up with the big plays in a 55-53 nonleague win over visiting San Rafael on Tuesday.

Balboa forwards John Bender and Lamar Anderson, both standing at 5-foot-11, each scored in double digits and held 6-foot-6 San Rafael senior center Nick Sterling to just three points in the second half.

“We’ve run into some tall teams, but we have great chemistry this year,” Bender said. “We just keep practicing hard and put the effort out on the court.”

The Bucs’ active 2-3 zone defense forced 20 San Rafael turnovers and Balboa outrebounded the larger Bulldogs (2-3).

“We hadn’t seen the zone yet, but we didn’t play with the urgency to win as an inexperienced team,” San Rafael coach Tony Butler said. “We got good looks against the zone and if we get to 50 points, we should win. We got dominated in the paint by a smaller team.”

As successful as Bender and Anderson were scoring on midrange jump shots and second-chance layups, when San Rafael tied the game at 53-53 on two free throws with 21 seconds remaining, the Bucs (4-0) went to senior leader Jonathan Burnoski.

Burnoski, a sharpshooting 5-foot-9 guard, drove to the basket, absorbed contact in the air and hit a contested layup with 7 seconds remaining to put the Bucs up. San Rafael guard Sho Bramah took a long 3-point shot as time wound down, but the potential game-winner bounced off the rim and Anderson skied for the rebound to seal the victory.

“I’m comfortable with my [guards] creating and my [forwards] going to the boards,” Balboa coach Val Cubales said. “We have three guys who are extremely athletic, who can all dunk the ball and really get up there. They can’t just rely on that, though. They still have to block to get rebounds and they’re doing that. They have amazing vertical ability.”

The Bucs started slow, though, and shot just over 15 percent from the field in the first quarter and trailed 10-5. Balboa picked up the pace in the middle quarters, shooting over 54 percent to take a 44-42 lead heading into the fourth.

Still unbeaten, the Bucs have been the most surprising team in the early season, considering their 8-22 record last season. Balboa didn’t get its fourth win until late January last season.

“We’ve been doing the same thing for the last four games and it’s been working for us,” Cubales said. “I only have two returning players and the rest is a new cast. The egos have dropped and things are working for now.”

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