By Ernest Stone
For the past three seasons, University High School has been the premier program in the Bay Counties League West, and while Saturday night’s 70-45 win over Stuart Hall in the tournament championship came as no surprise to those in attendance at Kezar Pavilion, it served as an authoritative reminder that while the Red Devils may not be identical to last year’s team, they are equally as dangerous and perhaps even hungrier heading into the CIF-North Coast Section Division V playoffs.
Contrary to what the final score would suggest, the Red Devils (23-5) struggled on offense in the first half, shooting just 37 percent from the field. Fortunately for University, its defense more than picked up the slack, with its full-court pressure causing 15 first-half turnovers and causing a shot disparity that favored the Red Devils 35-19.
“We must have practiced a thousand different ways to beat the pressure,” said Stuart Hall head coach Charles Johnson. “Obviously we fell a little short of our expectations, but I think more of our struggles were due to the things they did right, and their game plan and execution showed how they are the best team in this league by far.”
Despite the numerous turnovers, the Knights (15-12) entered the third quarter down just 31-19, and with 6:08 they forced University standout guard Noah Springwater to commit his fourth foul of the game and head to the bench.
Yet, almost immediately after Springwater left the game, University sophomore Chris Mah went to work.
After shooting just 1-of-8 from the floor in the first half, Mah caught fire in the third quarter and scored 11 of his game-high 16 points within a five minute span to extend University’s lead. After entering the third quarter down just 12 points, the Knights found themselves down 54-33 heading into the final period.
“I thought this game was extremely indicative of our season,” said University head coach Randal Bessolo. “Time and again we had guys step up when they had to, whether it be filling in for someone who went down with an injury, a surgery or whatever the case, and with Chris and Matt Carroll going to work when Noah was on the bench, you got to see a little of that.”
While Carroll, Mah, and Springwater combined for 41 points, it was the University bench that played out the majority of the fourth quarter, pushing the score to 70-45 to capture University’s third straight league title.
For Stuart Hall, Saturday’s loss ended its BCL West title hopes, but not its desire to make a run in the North Coast Section playoffs, if they receive an at-large bid.
The Red Devils receive an automatic bid to the NCS playoffs with the league championship, and with their dominant play this season, combined with run to the NorCal championship in last year’s state playoffs, they are one of a handful of contenders for the state title.
Chris Mah – 16
Matt Carroll – 15
Zio Enriquez – 13
Noah Springwater – 10
David Medoff – 4
Tim Connolly – 9
Brian Williams – 8
Tal Quetone – 7
Rashaan Johnson – 6
Cade Mclaughlin – 6