KEZAR PAVILION — Down 11-9 to The Bay School with 1:25 to go in the first quarter of Wednesday’s Division V North Coast Section first-round playoff game, Stuart Hall played as if in a daze.
They had gotten out to a quick 5-0 lead, but saw that evaporate, until Miles Amos poked away a steal, hit a crossover dribble and danced his way up the baseline, shoveling a pass to Nigel Burris. Burris drew a foul, and hit both of his free throws.
Those free throws kicked off a 21-0 run by the Knights, fueled by a high-pressure defense. The run propelled Stuart Hall to a 56-33 win, earning them a rematch with Marin Academy — a team the Knights beat 71-37 in last week’s Bay Counties League semifinal — in the second round.
“There was no panic, no special thing at 11-9,” said head coach Charles Johnson. “It was just, ‘Keep playing, we’re going to be fine.'”
On the Breakers’ next trip down the court, Spencer O’Brien Steele picked off a pass from Simon Bleskacek, worked his way out of a trap by two defenders, hit Alex Byrd with a give-and-go bounce pass and then finished with a lay-up. It was one of six steals the Knights would post during that stretch, with three coming from Byrd — who finished with seven swipes on the night — and another two from O’Brien-Steele.
Also during that run, little-used Nicholas Harle pulled down three rebounds, giving Stuart Hall (25-4) the extra possessions to pull away for good. While the sophomore star Burris scored a game-high 15 points, and junior Amos scored eight, it was the two more-unheralded players who made their presence felt the most.
“We’re counting on all of them,” Johnson said. “In some ways, it doesn’t surprise me.”
After the Knights’ dispatched University 54-49 in the BCL title game on Feb. 9, they didn’t come out with the energy Johnson had hoped.
“Our last game was a real tight game,” Johnson said. “The message was that we’re not good enough to take anybody lightly. One game at a time, all those basketball cliches. It was kind of an awkward game. I don’t know if either team played particularly well, but we’re moving on.”
The Knights are 3-0 against the Wildcats this season, beating them by an aggregate of 195-123, never winning by less than 15. Stuart Hall will face them at 6:30 on Saturday in the same building where the Knights boat-raced Marin Academy on Feb. 6. They’ve beaten the Wildcats 15 straight, and haven’t lost to them since Jan. 29, 2013. This will be the first time, though, that Stuart Hall has faced Marin Academy four times in a season during that stretch.
“We know we’re going to be in for a tough game on Saturday,” Johnson said. “We’ve beaten them three times, a couple of them were close. They won by 13 [on Wednesday], and they’re big and strong and we expect it to be a really good game. There’s not too many secrets. They’re big and tough. If we let them push us around inside, it gives them a chance to win. We want to pressure and play faster.”