The Half Moon Bay High School boys basketball team finished just short of a state title on Saturday, losing 89-59 to a polished Valencia squad that was the top seed in Southern California.
For those wearing orange and black, it was a long drive home from the Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise. The Cougar faithful had plenty of time to wonder what might have been if their biggest threat hadn’t gone down early with an injury.
The game was a back-and-forth affair until 6-8 junior Jaeden Hutchins heard a pop in his right foot and was forced to sit down for the remainder of what became a long game for the Coastsiders.
“He broke the same foot earlier in the year,” Cougar Coach John William Parsons said as he walked down the tunnel holding the runner-up trophy for finishing second in the CIF Division IV tournament.
“With Jaeden going down it really put us behind the eight-ball,” he said. “I’m really proud of how we fought.”
The game actually looked like a Cougar rout from the tip, which the Cougars won. A Drew Dorwin reverse layup, a steal leading to a layup and a Gio Gurdano-Martin 3 put the Cougars up 7-0 with 5:42 to go in the first.
But five Kai Davis free throws got the Vikings back in it. A Mikah Ballew 3-pointer gave the Vikings the 12-11 lead at 3:48 mark in the first. From there the state’s Division IV heavyweights traded blows. Hutchins hit two 3-pointers. And Viking senior Ballew was unstoppable with nine first-quarter points.
Both teams shot the lights out of the Golden 1 Center early. Half Moon Bay shot better than 47 percent from the field and the Vikings were even better, shooting 53 percent and a perfect 5-for-5 from the line. The Vikings finished the game shooting 58 percent from the field.
Hutchins said he injured his foot in the first quarter but played through it until the start of the second quarter when it became unbearable. A tied game became a 14-point deficit in less than eight minutes. A game Cougar squad soldiered on as the Jumbotron showed Hutchins stuffing his re-taped right ankle into a shoe that suddenly appeared two sizes too small. Hutchins reappeared on the bench but did not re-enter the game. He left the Golden 1 Center on crutches.
“Jaeden is a tough kid,” Parsons said. “He plays the whole game every game, but I could see it on his face.”
Hutchins’ presence down low was as important as the 12 points he scored before the injury. The Vikings seemed to have a clear path to the bucket without the Hutchins looming inside. The Vikings scored 46 points from the paint on the game. And the Vikings’ trapping defense suddenly seemed like a python, squeezing the Cougars into turning over the ball and slowing the Half Moon Bay attack.
Senior Dio Lucido said the defensive pressure slowed down the Cougars and that was key. He finished with 11 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
“I always say the best players make the game easier for everyone else,” Parsons said when asked about Lucido’s contribution.
The Cougars did not fold despite adversity. Dorwin ended the half in double figures, with 12 points. Martin, who finished with 18, was four for 10 including two 3-pointers in the half.
The half ended with Valencia up 43-32 and the Vikings continuing to blister the court. They shot better than 51 percent from the field while the Cougars slipped to 36 percent field goal percentage.
In the second half, the Vikings continued to exploit the Cougars lack of size down low. Cougar freshman Caiden Guevara battled 6-8 Bryce Bedgood but quickly got into foul trouble, making life extremely difficult for the Cougars. Half Moon Bay turned to another freshman, Owen Perez, who played admirably, getting a block in his first defensive opportunity.
By the middle of the third quarter, the Vikings held a 20-point edge. By the end of the game it was a 30-point margin.
While Saturday didn’t go the Cougars way, there is plenty of reason for optimism. The Cougars are a young squad with freshmen and sophomores who played significant minutes on the state’s biggest stage.
“Owen’s first varsity game was a state championship game,” Parsons noted with a chuckle afterward.
Well done, Cougars.
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