Alma Heights invaded Central Catholic High's gym Wednesday night with a small and very intelligent team.
How small? With only one starter taller than 6 feet, they were dwarfed by the much taller Raiders.
How intelligent? Identifying their own vertical challenges, the Eagles recognized early that attacking the basket would be futile, and did not make a single 2-point basket in the final 26 minutes of the game.
Of course it wasn't effective, and Central Catholic rolled to an 87-47 victory by playing a very relaxed and confident brand of basketball.
"It was kinda nice (playing against shorter guys,)" said junior guard Donovin Townsend, who scored 17 points and played a very steady floor game.
"It felt like we had a good rhythm. It was nice coming out early before the game and getting to shoot and warm up slowly and get a feel for my shot instead of just the 20 quick shots we usually get before a game."
The Raiders will be looking for that same opportunity to find their strokes on Saturday, when they travel to Kezar Pavilion to face University High of San Francisco, the No. 3 seed in the NorCal Division 5 playoffs.
John Fenton, who missed Central Catholic's section semifinal loss to Brookside Christian with an ankle sprain, had 18 points and 20 rebounds. Fellow post Jake Bland added 14 points as the Raiders pretty much scored at will.
"Donovin was a leader on the floor tonight," said Raiders' coach Mike Wilson. "The mismatches were there, so we took advantage of that and we looked to John early."
Central Catholic (26-4) took control of the game during a 16-0 first quarter run that began with two Townsend 3-pointers and finished by Joe Hamilton's 3-pointer.
Alma Heights, from Pacifica, got a driving layup from Ben Yeeles to end the run with 1:57 left in the first quarter. It was significant because it was the last 2-pointer of the game for the Eagles.
They attempted to stay in the game solely on 3-point shooting, and did shoot a reasonable 10-of-30 from behind the arc, but it was no match for the balance of the Raiders. Not only did Central dominate inside, but matched the outside marksmanship of Alma Heights (26-5) with their own 10 3-pointers.
The Eagles connected on six shots form behind the arc in the second quarter to trail 46-32 at halftime, but a simple adjustment at intermission took care of that rally.
"We knew they were going to shoot a lot of 3s, and we didn't do a good job of closing down on that in the first half," Wilson said. "Our goal defensively was to have them put the ball on the floor."
The Central Catholic guards, led by Townsend, were in charge of making that correction.
"This team's game allowed me to work on the things I needed to work on defensively, to get them ready for when we play the teams down the road," said Townsend, the backup quarterback on the Raiders' state bowl championship team. "We needed to feel the mental mindset of finding what works and trying to perfect that."
The Raiders not only held Alma Heights to 15 second-half points, but played almost flawlessly on offense, committing only one turnover in the second half and six for the game.
"They weren't pressuring us hard, but they did do a lot of sagging so we didn't force the issue and got a lot of quality shots because of that," Wilson said.
Joshua Cayetano hit five 3-pointers and led Alma Heights with 16 points, but it wasn't near enough to keep Central Catholic from booking a trip to Golden Gate Park.
"I just told the kids about Kezar, and only a couple of the kids know about the history of that place," said Wilson, who grew up watching the televised wrestling and Roller Derby from the historic venue. "It's always been a place I've wanted to bring a team."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS
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