Gauchos win on Tigers’ court

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SEBASTOPOL — On Jan. 12, Casa Grande snapped visiting Analy’s 26-game Sonoma County League winning streak. Rather than contenting themselves with that achievement, the Gauchos went one better Wednesday night, doing the nearly impossible and winning, 69-62, on the Tigers’ home court.

In a rough-and-tumble, occasionally frenetic game Tuesday night, Casa Grande defeated Analy on the Tigers' own court. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

Analy hadn’t lost at home since falling in overtime to Miramonte in the North Coast Section playoffs last year. The school hadn’t lost an SCL game at home since falling to El Molino by a point on Feb. 5, 2008.

Hey, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, and Casa is doing just that. Wednesday’s victory cemented the Gauchos’ lead in the SCL and left no doubt that, right now anyway, they’re the best team in the league.

“Analy is a great team, and we’ve been working hard in preparation for them,” Gauchos senior power forward Nick Sherry said. “Especially after last year, when they beat us by 20 here. The challenge was to get ’em here. It’s a tough place to play.”

It wasn’t just that the Gauchos got the better of Analy on the road. It was how they did it, coolly turning a six-point deficit early in the fourth quarter into a seven-point victory.
Senior forward Josh Hayworth led Casa Grande (19-4, 9-0 SCL) with 17 points, while senior guard Joey Rodriguez had 14. Sherry added 12 on the day he formally announced he was headed for UNLV on a football scholarship. Eli Alcantar paced the Tigers (17-5, 6-2) with 19 points.

In a rough-and-tumble, occasionally frenetic game that lived up to its billing — there was only one double-digit lead, when Analy led by 10 in the second quarter, and it lasted all of 46 seconds — the Gauchos proved to be a bit more physical and energetic.

“They got all the hustle plays — the long rebounds, the tips, the loose balls,” Analy coach Brett Page said. “Unfortunately, I think they wanted it more. We’re still trying to develop our young players.”

The Tigers usually play three sophomores in heavy rotation. They went with two of those sophs Wednesday. Casa, meanwhile, starts four seniors and a junior, and doesn’t have a sophomore on the roster. That experience was vital in a venue that tends to be highly unfriendly to visiting teams.

Analy mounted a 10-0 run over the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second and went on a seven-point spree late in the second en route to a 39-31 halftime lead. The Tigers later scored the first three points of the fourth quarter to go up 56-50. The Gauchos were starting to fall into foul trouble, and the sunken gym on the north side of town was rattling with noise.

Then, almost inexplicably, the Tigers stopped putting the ball in the basket. They went the next 4:15 without scoring a point, missing inside and outside with plenty of help from Casa Grande’s hounding defense. The Gauchos poured in 12 points during Analy’s drought, including five each by Rodriguez and Hayworth, grabbing a 62-56 lead and never allowing the home team to get within five points again.

Casa might never have survived this one without spot-on free-throw shooting — 21 of 27 for the game, and 12 of 15 (including a couple of 1-and-1 situations) in the crucial fourth quarter.
Analy star Max Fujii banged his wrist early in the game and got hit in the ribs taking a charge. The senior guard wound up with 11 points, far below his season average of 25.5.

“We knew we had to box out, and we had to shut down Fujii,” Sherry said. “We knew we can’t let Fujii get hot.”
The Gauchos came out in a 2-3 zone — a setup that worked to their advantage in the Jan. 12 win — but scrapped it after struggling early in the game. Instead, they stuck Rodriguez on Fujii most of the night, and the underrated, long-armed guard did an excellent job on defense.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.