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BOYS BASKETBALL: Back-to-Back Titles for SHP

Swarming defense claims latest victim as Gators down Santa Cruz to win CCS Division IV championship again; SHP now looks for program's first NorCal crown.

The Score: SHP 61, Santa Cruz 51.

The Star: Sacred Heart Prep’s Tomas O’Donnell picked the perfect time for what coach Tony Martinelli called the senior’s best performance to date “by far.” O’Donnell, a 6-foot-5 post, set season highs with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the undermanned Gators rolled to the Central Coast Section Division IV championship for the second year in a row at Santa Clara University on Friday.

The Turning Point: Sacred Heart Prep’s slick press break with just over a minute left. Will McConnell (game-high 16 points, nine rebounds) inbounded the ball from the far baseline, the top-seeded Gators whipped two passes past the swarming Santa Cruz defenders and Tomas O’Donnell dropped in a layup for a 56-49 lead with 1:04 remaining that proved too much for the Cardinals (22-7) to overcome. No. 2 seed Santa Cruz missed a 3-pointer and a jumper at the other end … and then had to resort to fouling. SHP (25-2) made 6-of-8 free throws in the closing seconds to secure the win.

The Quote: “As we start to make our run in NorCals, we’re going to need to get experience in these close games. … It’s no fun to play lesser opponents. And we all relish the chance to compete.” – Gators guard Colin Terndrup, on the benefit and enjoyment of battling Santa Cruz down the stretch.

The Quote #2: “I think it’s a statement for our team that we can win without Reed. He’s our best player.” – SHP post Will McConnell, on the impact of beating a tough Santa Cruz team despite lacking the services of Reed McConnell. The senior wing served a one-game suspension for leaving the bench after Carmel committed a flagrant foul on his twin brother, Will, in the third quarter of the Gators’ on Tuesday.

What’s Next? The Gators move on to their next goal – winning a title in the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California playoffs. They await their seeding – Martinelli believes a first-round bye is possible.

The Bottom Line: Sacred Heart Prep successfully defended its Central Coast Section Division IV title – marking the first time the Gators have ever been back-to-back champions. SHP now owns five CCS crowns – the first three (1995, 2006 and 2008) in Division V. … Santa Cruz gave SHP a worthy postseason challenge for the second straight year. Both Will McConnell and Terndrup called the Gators’ 55-54 win in teams’ matchup in the 2010 semifinals “lucky.” This year, SHP stayed slightly ahead of the Cardinals for the majority of the game – the Gators briefly fell behind midway through the third quarter – and only pushed their lead to double digits with their final point of the night (the second of two Cole McConnell free throws with 6.6 seconds left). … That shot preserved a noteworthy streak – SHP has won 21 straight games, all by double digits. … Santa Cruz employed a swarming defense and up-tempo offense that led Will McConnell to say, “They’re a mirror image of us. I think they push the ball a little better than we do, but we play a little better halfcourt defense than they do.” … SHP, No. 3 in behind Serra and Burlingame, buckled down to hold the Cardinals to 9-of-35 shooting and just 20 points in the second half. Santa Cruz shot 31.8 percent for the game – the latest team to have a sub-par offensive showing in the face of a Gator defense that takes full advantage of the players’ length and athleticism. … At the other end of the court, Terndrup’s aggressive drives help set the tone for the Gators’ intensity. … O’Donnell shot a smooth 6-of-8 from the floor and made both of his free throws. … SHP has never played in a NorCal final. Think the Gators are motivated?

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Sacred Heart Prep 61, Santa Cruz 51

SC – 8 23 10 10 -- 51

SHP – 13 20 11 17 -- 61

SC: Williams 4 1-2 10, Conroy 5 1-1 11, Maki 3 0-0 6, Demeo 1 0-0 2, Schmidt 2 0-1 4, Bonner 4 2-2 12, Hansen 2 2-2 6. Totals: 21 6-8 51.

SHP: W. McConnell 6 2-4 16, Terndrup 4 4-9 12, O’Donnell 6 2-2 14, McNamara 1 2-2 4, C. McConnell 2 4-4 10, Watterson 1 1-2 3, Baloff 0 2-2 2. Totals: 20 17-25 61.

3-point goals: SC: Bonner 2, Williams. SHP: W. McConnell 2, C. McConnell 2.

Records: Santa Cruz 22-7. Sacred Heart Prep 25-2.

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