By Jeremy Balan
Missing its best player and suffering through a poor shooting night, Leadership High School fell to top-seeded St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda in a 61-22 rout in the first round of the CIF-North Coast Section Division V playoffs on Wednesday at Kezar Pavilion.
The Griffins (13-13) were missing standout senior point guard Robert Chiu, who strained a muscle in his chest during training earlier in the week.
“It meant everything,” Leadership Head Coach George Adkins said, on the impact of losing Chiu. “He’s our MVP, best ball-handler and gets us into our offensive sets. Would we have won [if Chiu had played]? I honestly don’t think so, but the margin would have been less.”
Leadership was able to hang with SJND (23-7) early, and the Griffins pulled to within 11-7 early in the second quarter, but the Piliots went on a 16-3 run to end the half and never looked back.
The Pilots forced 24 Leadership turnovers and held the Griffins to 19 percent shooting from the floor with a tight man-to-man defense.
Leadership only scored two points in the third quarter and trailed 35-12 entering the final quarter.
“Our pressure and size hurt them,” said SJND Head Coach Don Lippi. “We’re always afraid when our first round game is against a league champ, but we played well.”
The SJND lineup outmatched the Griffins in size and athleticism, most notably with 6-foot-10-inch junior center Brendan Keane, who had 10 points, including two impressive dunks and several blocks.
11 SJND players scored, as key reserves got valuable playing time.
“We played a lot of people,” Lippi said. “We got a good idea who we might be able to use in future games.”
The lone bight spot for Leadership was sophomore forward Dontaz Combs, who had a team-high 10 points.
“[Combs] really stepped up,” Adkins said. “He gave us his all today.”
Even with the opening-round loss, Adkins is encouraged about the progress the Griffins made this season, winning their first Bay Counties Central League title and gaining their first NCS playoff birth.
Although the loss of Chiu and fellow starter Jerome Bright will hurt, the the Griffins will return 11 players next season.
“[Making the NCS playoffs] is huge for our school and everyone has been elated with our success,” Adkins said. “We set the bar high and expectations are going to be higher next year. I told the guys to be humble, but not complacent.”
SJND will face Roseland University Prep of Santa Rosa in the quarterfinals on Saturday.