By Jeremy Balan
SANTA CLARA — After Burlingame retook the lead with just over seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, it appeared the Panthers were primed to break Sacred Heart Cathedral’s stranglehold on the CIF-Central Coast Section Division III championship.
Instead, the Irish played near-perfect defense down the stretch, holding Burlingame scoreless for the rest of the game and ended on a 10-0 run to clinch their third consecutive CCS title with a 41-32 win on Saturday at Santa Clara University.
“We played a little tight on the offensive end early, but I thought our defense was good. In the second half our defense was great,” said Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour. “I’m always talking to our guys about defending, because I don’t care where you play or at what level you play at, if you defend and rebound you’ll be in every game and have a chance at winning.”
The run was punctuated emphatically by two huge blocks by junior forward Taylor Johns, which fed directly into the Irish (23-6) offense.
“We knew the offense would come, so we just kept playing hard and kept up with our defense,” Johns said. “[The blocks] fire up [the team] a lot. A block is like a dunk to us.”
Johns would finish with nine points and a game-high 11 rebounds, to go along with four blocks, but when the Irish needed key points, they turned to fellow junior forward Joshua Fox, who was tied sophomore with Herman Pratt for the team-high with 10 points, which included a two-handed dunk in the first quarter.
Still, it was the Sacred Heart defense that held the Panthers to just 11 points in the second half and four in the fourth quarter, after Burlingame (26-4) led 21-18 at the half.
The Irish also significantly altered the impact of Burlingame’s standout forward Rodrigo Puliceno, who came into the game averaging over 12 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Sacred Heart denied Puliceno the ball throughout and held him to five points on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor.
“We wanted to limit his touches, because I felt that if he touched the ball a lot, he’ll score and we’ll get in foul trouble,” Barbour said.
With its leading scorer locked down, Burlingame appeared to panic late, taking often off-balanced or contested shots from three-point range in an attempt to get back in the game. Three-point shooting was an issue throughout for the Panthers, who connected on just 4-of-23 attempts from beyond the arc.
“You gotta put the ball in the basket every now and then,” said Burlingame head coach Jeff Dowd. “We hustled and played our asses off, but we just couldn’t make any shots. Shot selection was a part of it, because we were frustrated we weren’t getting it inside, so we started jacking up threes.”
Sacred Heart and Burlingame both move on to the CIF state championship tournament next week, but Barbour and the Irish aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves.
“You never know this time of year, because it’s one-and-done,” Barbour said. “We’re going to lace ’em up on Tuesday, play our heart out and hope we can play again.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Joshua Fox – 10
Herman Pratt – 10
Taylor Johns – 9
Zachary Tapel – 6
Yanoj Jackson – 4
Zach Grotz – 13
Dean Ferrari – 6
Rodrigo Puliceno – 5
Kyle Shaffer – 4
Two players tied with 2 points