SUNNYVALE — It’s rare for the Serra Padres to lose to a San Mateo County public school. It’s even rarer for one of those teams to beat the Padres at their own game.
That’s exactly what happened Friday night, as Menlo-Atherton mirrored Serra’s defensive pressure and scrapped for every 50-50 ball to beat the Padres, 67-54 in the quarterfinals of the CCS Open Division.
It marked just the fifth time in the last 10 years a San Mateo County public school has beaten Serra, and it’s the third year in a row the Padres have lost in the Open Division quarterfinals.
As has been the case more than a few times this year, Serra (17-8) trailed early but came out of the gates firing in the second, using two Parker McDonald 3-pointers and five points from Antonio Abeyta to take a 34-33 lead, but unlike most opponents, the Bears didn’t fold.
Most public schools give in to Serra’s defensive pressure, but this Menlo-Atherton team is different. The Bears are tremendously athletic, share the ball and can handle the intensity that Chuck Rapp’s Padres have been known for over the last two decades.
Menlo-Atherton (24-3) answered with a trio of 3-pointers — one by Nick Tripaldi and two by Trevor Wargo — as part of an 11-1 run to go up by nine. Another three from McDonald cut it to 44-38 and ignited a 9-0 run. Back-to-back turnovers, capped off by a McDonald steal and layup off an inbound, tied it at 44 with seven minutes left. It was one of just three times all night the Bears would turn it over against the press, something that most public schools do repeatedly against Serra.
Once again, they wouldn’t crumble. Junior point guard Justin Anderson, a Division I defensive back prospect whose offers include Utah and Washington State, drove through traffic to put fourth-seeded Menlo-Atherton back on top.
James Beckwith cut to the hoop to put his team up four, and after McDonald cut the lead in half, Tripaldi hit a massive 3-pointer to open up a five-point advantage. A Beckwith 3-pointer made it 54-47 before the Padres made their last charge, with five straight points by Cade Rees.
Serra then had a chance to tie or go in front with three and a half minutes left after the Bears couldn’t finish a second chance, but a steal and layup by Tripaldi would erase any chances of that and spark a decisive 13-2 run.
After Beasley stopped a McDonald drive to the hoop, he’d hit an open 3-pointer to put Menlo-Atherton up seven, and six late points from sophomore Skyler Thomas, another defensive back with Division I potential, scored six late points to seal the victory.
The typical strong public school from San Mateo County that does challenge Serra does so with a star player, like Frankie Ferrari at Burlingame or Sequoia’s Ziggy Lauese over the last few years. The Bears don’t have an individual player that takes over, but they do have a deep roster, and that roster had four double-digit scorers on Friday. Tripaldi scored 16, Beckwith finished with 14, Beasley had 11 and Thomas added 10.
Rees paced the fifth-seeded Padres with 18 points and nine rebounds, but he was slowed enough by the 5-foot-11 Beasley and the rest of an undersized Menlo-Atherton team to prevent him from taking over the game. McDonald led all scorers with 19, including four 3-pointers. Abeyta finished with eight, while Dominic Bartlewski, who had missed his last two games with a concussion, added six.
After reaching the Open Division Championship in each of the first three years the tournament was held, ultimately winning it in 2015, Serra has fallen short for a fourth straight year. They’ll travel to Mitty next Thursday for a consolation game and await their seed in the state tournament, which will be released Sunday, Feb. 24.
There’s a chance the loss could drop the Padres from Division I to Division II. They won the Division II title in 2016, their only state championship in program history, after a loss in the CCS Open semifinals knocked them out of contention for the CIF Open Division.
Serra alumnus Barry Bonds was in attendance at Friday’s game at neutral-site Fremont in Sunnyvale, though he kept a low profile. The all-time MLB home run king was in attendance not only to watch his alma mater, but to support Menlo-Atherton head coach Mike Molieri, a 1983 Serra graduate. Bonds and Molieri’s brother are close friends.cade reesCentral Coast Sectionjames beckwithJunipero Serra High Schoolmenlo-atherton bearsMenlo-Atherton High Schoolnick tripaldiparker mcdonaldPrep Sportsserra padresskyler thomaswill beasley