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SHP takes down Menlo in battle for 3rd in WBAL

By Terry Bernal, Daily Journal Staff
The Gators defeated rival Menlo 60-55 to take over sole possession of 3rd place in the WBAL. With the win, SHP swept the regular-season series against the Knights, with a potential 3rd meeting taking place in the Division IV CCS playoffs. 

It was one of the wildest crowds ever seen at the McGanney Sports Center. And host Sacred Heart Prep rewarded its scarlet sea of fans in the capacity crowd Saturday night with a thrilling 60-55 win over rival Menlo School.

“I haven’t seen our gym that crowded,” SHP head coach Tony Martinelli said. “You couldn’t find an open seat.”

The Gators (8-3 WBAL, 11-10 overall) led wire to wire, but it was touch-and-go the whole way. Menlo trailed by just 1 at halftime, and overcame SHP’s 12-5 third-quarter run to pull to within 2 with less than 30 seconds to play.

Senior forward Yianni Gardner responded by heaving an assist pass the length of the floor to senior Reece Lindquist, who scored a layup to up the lead to 58-54. The Gators won the free-throw exchange from there, with Lindquist knocking down two from the stripe to close out the victory.

With the win, SHP takes sole possession of third place in the West Bay Athletic League standings. Menlo (7-4, 13-8) drops to fourth place, as both teams entered with identical league records. It marks the second time the Gators have defeated the Knights this year, following a 50-48 overtime win Jan. 11. SHP last swept its rival in regular-season play in 2015-16.

Menlo won four straight meetings the past two years. The difference this year, according to Martinelli, is the grit this year’s Gators squad has shown.

“Just how hard the guys have been playing,” Martinelli said. “Really, the seniors have set the tone in both games. I think you need that in a big game.”

Junior guard Jai Deshpande led SHP with 18 points, while Gardner netted 12 and fellow senior Brendan Carney added 11. Gardner had some of the Gators’ biggest plays in the fourth quarter, though, including a play midway through the closing period where he boxed out on a Menlo miss, then drew an over-the-back foul while attempting the rebound. With Menlo in the penalty, Gardner went to the line and nailed both free throws.
“The stats don’t really show it,” Martinelli said. “He was a big part of the game.”

Menlo senior Nate Solomon scored a game-high 19 points, while junior Cole Kastner recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, including a 3-pointer just before halftime to close SHP’s lead to 29-28 at the break.

The Gators stayed with the 2-3 zone to combat Kastner, though, and it worked. A majority of the junior’s points came in the first half.

Then to start the third quarter, SHP opened with a defensive stop. It set the tone as Menlo scored just five points in the period. It was Menlo’s fourth-quarter defense that kept it close though, as the Knights switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense in the second half, which flustered the Gators down the stretch, Martinelli said.

“They put a good comeback on us and put everything out there and got some big steals,” Martinelli said.

SHP grinded it out down the stretch though, extending the game with frequent free-throw stoppages.

“The last five minutes of the game felt like it took two hours,” Martinelli said.

Both SHP and Menlo are perennials in the Central Coast Section Division IV playoffs. The last time the rivals met in the postseason was during the 2015-16 season, when the Gators earned their third win of the season over the Knights in the tournament quarterfinals.

This postseason could feature another chance for SHP to go 3 for 3 against Menlo. The difference this season is the Gators could get another chance to do it on their home court.

CCS has traditionally used neutral sites from the quarterfinal round, as in 2015-16 when SHP, despite being seeded No. 1, traveled to Santa Cruz to play Menlo at Kaiser Arena. This year is different, though, as higher seeds will host CCS playoff games through the semifinal round.

“To possibly get a quarterfinal game at home would be huge for us,” Martinelli said. “We’ve basically got to win out now to ensure a higher seed than we have right now.”

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Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12