SAN FRANCISCO — The Central Catholic High Raiders dressed in a locker room manned decades ago by the San Francisco 49ers. They walked downstairs into a rickety old auditorium where Bill Russell climbed toward greatness with the USF Dons in the 1950s.
It figured that the Raiders' problem Saturday night broke down to old-fashioned stuff like math: 3s beat 2s.
Central Catholic's remarkable season came to an end at historic Kezar Pavilion, where the Raiders were out-tripled by University 79-69 in the CIF North Regional Division 5 quarterfinals.
University matched its season high by drilling 16 triples, all during the first three periods. The Raiders countered with six, along with 28 points by 6-foot-9 senior post John Fenton.
"They hit everything. We practiced defense," Fenton admitted. "No matter what we did, even when we had a hand in their face, they hit 'em."
Central Catholic (26-5) lost for the first time when Fenton wasn't hindered by foul trouble.
While his future coach Colgate's Matt Langel watched from the wooden benches, Fenton was close to unstoppable from underneath. University collapsed around him, but its tallest defender was 6-5 Jack Gale. Fenton owned the glass.
Problem was, the Raiders couldn't solve University's outside arsenal. They tried everything a 1-3-1, various extended zones, even a full-court press CC hardly ever attempted this season.
"We shot especially well tonight, possibly the best all season, and we had to. Central Catholic may have been the best team we've seen," said University coach Randy Bessolo, who's brought his team to the Modesto Christian tournament the last three years.
"They just caught us on our best night," Bessolo continued. "We've played similar talented teams at Modesto Christian. We may have learned some lessons from those games."
University (25-8), located only about a 10-minute drive away, enjoyed its sixth game this year at Kezar. The Red Devils' quick dribble-drive-and-dish attack strafed CC for 3s from everywhere.
Gale netted five 3-pointers en route to 17 points, followed by Will Carroll and guard Chris Mah with four 3s apiece.
"We knew it was coming," Raiders coach Mike Wilson said. "I never thought they'd shoot that well. They saved it for us. If they had just an average night, we might have beat them."
Central Catholic led 24-21 early in the second period before University uncoiled the full measure of its offense. The Red Devils pressured CC with a full-court press which produced 10 straight points and the lead for good.
Ironically, the most disruptive University star for CC was 6-3 senior Harold Getz (15 points), who did not connect from the arc. He drove aggressively, however, and either scored or dished to open teammates outside.
"We had trouble matching up with No. 2 (Getz)," Wilson said.
Central Catholic, minus the quickness and skill of its opponents, never backed off. Guard Donovin Townsend delivered 12 points, Joe Hamilton had 10, and the Raiders also received help off the bench during the second half from Jonathan Boddie and David Henriques.
University's lead reached 69-54 early in the fourth quarter when three things happened the Devils cooled off, Fenton warmed up, and the San Francisco team paid attention to the shot clock.
Central Catholic rallied to within 73-65 with 1:05 left. University countered with six straight free throws by David Medoff (11 points) to clinch its semifinal game against Capital Christian.
Wilson finally pulled Fenton and the starters with 5 seconds left. Fenton closed his career with a loss, but he exited with an emphatic performance.
"I've never seen someone change so much over three years," Wilson praised. "Mentally, physically, and emotionally, he got so much better, and he became a leader as a senior."
Unfortunately for Central Catholic, Fenton's arms couldn't reach 20 feet.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302.