Through the windows along the south wall of the gymnasium, Central Catholic High boys basketball coach Mike Wilson watched his team revel in a 49-44 victory over Half Moon Bay in the quarterfinals of the CIF State Northern California Division III tournament.
In years past, Wilson would have stormed the floor, stomping and pushing his way through the crowd, herding each player and coach into the locker room for a postgame talk.
His scowl and approach have softened in recent years. Maybe three straight Sac-Joaquin Section championships do that to a coach with a laser stare and deep growl.
“Yeah,” he says. “Maybe I’ve gone soft.”
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It works for Wilson and the high-flying Raiders (30-2), who continue to break new ground.
Central Catholic has won 21 straight and clinched the program's first 30-win season as it chases an elusive trifecta: a Valley Oak League title, Sac-Joaquin Section banner, and a state championship.
The journey continues Tuesday at the Mark Gallo Health and Fitness Center after No. 8 Valley Christian of San Jose stunned top-seeded Branson of Ross with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, 37-34. Branson’s exit means Central Catholic becomes the top seed in that half of the Northern California bracket, and thus, the home team.
One night after the top teams in state — No. 1 Salesian and No. 2 Mater Dei — were bounced out of the Open Division tournament, Wilson wasn’t surprised by Valley Christian’s upset.
“At this stage, they’re all tough,” he said. “… As far as this program moving into the semis, it’s not a new thing. It’s one of those monkeys we have to get off our back, though. We did it once before, but it was a long time ago.
"It’s nice to have a home game. So, yeah, it’s a big step for these guys and their confidence.”
Dayton Magana exudes confidence.
As the game tightens and the pressure mounts, Central Catholic’s sophomore point guard demands the ball and doesn't flinch when the moment finds him.
Magana didn’t cower as a call-up last season, playing heavy minutes in the postseason for a team dominated by a group of close-knit seniors.
This year, he's taken the baton. Magana is now a tone-setter for the Raiders, both offensively and defensively, and a player Wilson trusts explicitly, especially in the clutch.
Magana had nine points, a team-high five steals and buried two free throws with 17.2 seconds left that clinched the Raiders’ second win over Half Moon Bay (25-6) in as many years.
Central Catholic didn’t shoot it well from the charity stripe, but Magana was spot-on in the final seconds. Wilson has been impressed by his floor general's short memory and fearlessness.
In Wednesday’s 55-51 victory over Monterey, Magana was 3 of 6 from the free throw line in the final minute. He missed two with 18.7 seconds left.
On Saturday, he missed his final three field goal attempts, including back-to-back 3s in the fourth. Still, he stepped to the free-throw line with a cold look in his eyes.
“He’s hit some big ones in the past and he makes up for any mistakes he has because he is a gamer,” Wilson said of Magana. "It’s hard to be frustrated or angry when he comes out and continues to produce, whether it be on defense, rebounding, or with his ball-handling.
"He’s learning his lessons and it's been a fun ride watching him learn. We’re getting rewarded.”
Joshua Hamilton had 19 points, four assists, four turnovers and two steals, while the Clayton brothers, Malcom and Myles, combined for eight points and 12 rebounds.
Justin Traina chipped in seven points and Nic Sani had four in a heavyweight dual with Half Moon Bay’s Ethan Menzies, a crafty 6-foot-7 center.
Menzies had 17, a below-average performance, if ever so slightly. He had just two points in the fourth quarter and none in the final three minutes.
“I’m proud of the those guys as far as their effort level on defense,” Wilson said. "That big kid is tough to deal with. Game plan-wise, we asked them to do certain things in the huddle, regarding him, and they performed them pretty well. So we made things rough on him.”
Sam Treanor finished with a game-high 21 points, including 10 from the free-throw line before fouling out late.
Treanor willed the Cougars back into the game late in the third quarter. Central Catholic led by as many as 14 in the second half, but couldn’t keep the Central Coast Section Division IV champions at bay.
Half Moon Bay cut the deficit to 43-38 going into the fourth quarter on a tip-in at the buzzer.
“We got a problem with our gas pedal and it has to do with the weight of our feet,” Wilson said. “I’m proud of the fact that they withstood that (run) for shooting how poorly we did. We didn’t shoot well tonight, especially from the free-throw line for us. They weathered it, sucked it up and got some important rebounds at the end of the game. I’m proud of them for that, but …
“We have a hard time in regards to taking our foot off their necks, so to speak, where we could put them away and we don’t. It’s been happening all year. That’s my only frustration with this group of kids."