Boys basketball: Redwood escapes showdown for shot at MCAL title

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Redwood High already survived one thriller against Archie Williams, so the Giants steeled themselves for a tough matchup against the Peregrine Falcons in Wednesday’s MCAL boys basketball semifinals.

Redwood, less than a week after a 50-47 victory over the Falcons, watched a 19-point halftime lead vanish completely. The Giants found themselves trailing by one point in the fourth quarter and had to scramble for a 58-56 home win.

“We knew after last week that this is a dangerous Archie Williams team,” Redwood head coach Jay DeMaestri said. “They’ve done this before. They’ve come back from big deficits.”

The victory sets up a rematch of last year’s MCAL championship between Redwood (16-11, 6-2) and the Branson School. Branson won, 45-41, last year to claim the league title.

“We wanted to see Branson in the title game,” said Redwood senior Jake Vasquez, who finished with a game-high 26 points and 10 rebounds.

Friday’s MCAL championship between the second-seeded Giants and the top-seeded Bulls is the third meeting this season between the rivals. Branson won the first two games against Redwood, 66-45 on Dec. 12, and 54-48 on Jan. 5.

“We know Branson and they know us. We both know which players we need to stop,” DeMaestri said. “This is like Michigan-Ohio State or Duke-North Carolina. This is a great rivalry.”

Wednesday’s game flipped at halftime, as the Giants hit seven 3-pointers and controlled the boards in the first half. In the second half, the Falcons seemingly couldn’t miss as they hit six 3-pointers, including four from Dante Stallone, who finished with five big shots and a team-best 19 points.

“In the first half, we were playing to win,” DeMaestri said. “In the second half, we were playing not to lose, and you can’t play that way.”

The Falcons went on a 13-2 rampage within 4 minutes to open the fourth frame. They fed the ball to Brian Wright in the paint for a pair of baskets, then Stallone, Ephraim Sohn and Grady Stewart one by one lined up for 3-pointers. The Giants were barely holding on to a one-point edge as Vasquez missed a pair of free throws with 4:30 left to play.

The Falcons grabbed a rebound, then pushed the ball ahead to Wright for a layup, giving Archie Williams a 46-45 lead. It was the first time the Falcons were out front since the first quarter, when they led 4-3.

The Falcons’ lead didn’t last long as Brennan Woodley soared to the rim for a layup and the go-ahead basket. The Giants couldn’t keep their lead, either. Stallone hit two more 3-pointers in the final 2 minutes, tying the game at 56-56 with 37 seconds left to play.

Vasquez again stepped to the free-throw line with 24 seconds to play and this time dropped both shots for the wining margin. The Giants couldn’t celebrate just yet though. Shouts of “No 3-pointers” came from the Redwood bench, though they might have been willing to go to overtime.

Owen Bugas found himself with the ball with seconds running off the clock. The Giants refused to give him an open shot, but he hurled up a prayer from behind the arc that went wide of the basket as the buzzer sounded.

Vasquez dictated the tempo of the game in the first half as he scored 18 points. His first-half highlights included three fall-away 3-pointers and a steal at midcourt that Vasquez took straight to the hoop.

The Peregrine Falcons tried to limit Vasquez and held him to just one basket from the field in the second half. He added six points at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. While Vasquez’s scoring cooled in the second half, the rest of the team stoked the fire. BJ Fisher scored 11 points for the Giants and Woodley finished with nine.

The Falcons got 14 points from Wright and 10 from Bugas, one of the few connections to the 2021-22 team that lost to Redwood in the MCAL finals.

“This was a good experience for a young team,” Archie Williams head coach Russ Bauer said. “Pretty soon, we’ll be coming here to Redwood for more meaningful games on a regular basis.”

Around the county

Branson rolled to a 78-36 final against Marin Catholic in one semifinal. Ty Landers had 14 points for the Bulls while Semetri Carr and Joaquin Aguillon both scored 13. Jase Butler had 10 points for the Bulls, who led 43-16 at the break.

Carr also had 10 rebounds and six steals. Butler did a bit of everything with five rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Finley Keeffe had eight points and four rebounds.

Charles Williams paced MC with 10 points, five rebounds and two steals. Theo Pontes and Corey Nicholson added six points apiece.

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