KEZAR PAVILION — Six basketball teams entered Kezar Pavilion on Tuesday night for the first round of NorCal regional CIF playoffs, but only three — all the local teams — left with their seasons intact.
By achieving wins against their first round opponents, the Mission Bears (Division IV), Stuart Hall Knights (Division III) and University Red Devils (Division III) all progressed to the second round of the CIF state tournament, keeping the hopes of a California state title alive.
Mission 56 vs. Sacramento-West Campus 51
Both teams entered the first round with single-digit losses on the year, but for Mission, the game did not get off to an ideal start. After scoring the first basket of the game, the Bears (22-9) would allow West Campus (23-8) to rattle off 11 unanswered points, setting them back by nine points within the first three minutes of the game.
“We just got caught sleepwalking,” Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya said. “And to [West Campus’] credit, they came out and smacked us in the face. But we settled down and got back to our game.”
After giving the Warriors a burst of confidence, the Bears responded in the end of the first and the entire second quarter by holding West Campus to 11 total points over the ensuing 13 minutes.
“We came out flat,” Bears guard Ben Knight said. “But once we got in our groove, we turned it up. That’s what led to that push.”
Knight, who finished with a game-high 19 points, became the focus of Mission’s offense, as has been the case much of the season for the Bears’ leading scorer. On Tuesday, Knight, the only remaining player from Mission’s 2016 State Champion team decided to push the pace of the game.
Running off of defensive rebounds, Knight was able to get down the floor and go coast-to-coast, scoring at point-blank range on the other end of the floor.
“Coach always tells me if I get the rebound, just go,” Knight said. “The floor opens up a lot.”
Mission was able to open up a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter, but the Warriors did not go away quietly. Rallying back to close to gap to as few as two points, West Campus forced Mission to grind out the game and truly earn their first-round win.
“We said that [West Campus] was one of the teams that could really win this tournament,” Knight said. “Let’s shut them out now and just get them out of the way … we knew what they brought to the table before we even played them.”
The Bears will now face No. 1-seed Albany-St. Mary’s on the road on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Stuart Hall 60, San Jose-Leland 41
Next up on the schedule were the Stuart Hall Knights from San Francisco and the Leland Chargers from San Jose who entered as the No. 4 and No. 13 seed in the Division III bracket, respectively.
With a raucous home crowd in attendance, Stuart Hall (28-5) was able to jump out to an early 13-7 lead after a slow first quarter. The key for the Knights, however was the defensive side of the ball, as they held Leland (24-4) to just 19 first-half points.
The primary focus of the evening was on Chargers guard Sohan Kshirsagar, who entered Tuesday night averaging a team-high 20.3 points per game. Tasked with guarding the 6-foot-2 senior was Miles Amos.
“We sent him out there to shut a guy down and he completely locked him up,” Knights head coach Charles Johnson said. “It was an unreal defensive effort. Just some old-school defense. It was really impressive.”
On Monday, Amos was named the MVP of the Bay Counties League – West. Twenty-four hours later, according to his coach, he validated that selection.
To go along with Amos’ lock-down defense — he held Kshirsagar to just six points — the senior guard also chipped in with 16 points, just one shy of the Knights forward Nigel Burris, who finished with a game-high 17.
En route to the 60-41 win over Leland, Amos had two chances to put on a show for the home fans, leaking out for two fast-break layups. As the crowd was ready to bust in response to an Amos dunk, the 6-foot-1 point guard chose to play it safe in the first round of the playoffs.
“I hurt my knee last week, so I was just being cautious,” Amos said. “We’re looking ahead so always be cautious. Maybe later down the road, I’ll throw one down for them.”
The Knights will next face No. 12-seed Palo Alto at Kezar on Feb. 28.
University 50, San Jose-Piedmont Hills 31
In their 11th consecutive CIF state tournament bid, the No. 3-seed Red Devils faced off against the No. 14-seed Pirates, and it didn’t take long for University to impose their will.
Taking advantage of a decided height advantage over Piedmont Hills — who this season often trotted out lineups of players all under six-feet tall — University relied on the scoring punch of their senior guard, Max Fried, who led the Red Devils in nearly every major statistical category this season.
“Max really makes us go,” University head coach Randy Bessolo said. “Usually he defers with assists but tonight, I think he smelled the mismatch.”
The 6-foot-4 Fried would pound the paint early on Tuesday, scoring eight of his 13 first-half points inside of the key. He would also expand his range, hitting a triple before the break as well.
University jumped out to a 25-16 lead by half time, and, similar to Stuart Hall, relied on its defense, holding the Pirates to just 31 points on the evening.
“This game was all about defense,” Bessolo said. “To their credit, they were scrappy but regardless, our defense was a constant.”
With their defensive effort, the Red Devils were able to snuff out the Pirates early in the second half as they built their lead up to as many as 22 points in the third quarter.
By the middle of the fourth, both teams had cleared their benches as University coasted to a comfortable win, earning them a date on Thursday at 7 p.m. back at Kezar against No. 11-seed Mountain View.
“Every game could be the last of the year,” Fried said. “It’s the same way I approach every game. It’s my favorite time of the year. This is where all of the hard work comes to fruition.”