Casa improves to 12-0 in SCL

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PETALUMA — The Casa Grande boys weren’t perfect Wednesday night, but the result was perfection. Hosting cross-town rival Petaluma, the Gauchos were more relentless than overpowering, but in the end they came away with a 66-36 victory and an unblemished 12-0 record in the Sonoma County League.

Casa's Josh Hayworth, left, defends against Petaluma's Anthony Sequeira. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

Casa (22-4 overall) was expected to handle Petaluma (5-21, 1-10), and did so, but the momentum built gradually. The Gauchos led 29-21 at halftime, then scored the first seven points of the second half to gain a little cushion. The fourth quarter was a 17-4 runaway as Casa Grande’s greater depth finally wore down the Trojans.

“This game’s always tough,” Gauchos coach James Forni said afterward. “Petaluma is always motivated for this game.”
The Trojans may be better than their record, too, with four SCL losses of seven points or fewer.
The difference Wednesday was a stifling full-court press that Petaluma never found a way to handle. The Trojans turned over the ball 26 times, often in the backcourt. With no ball handler who could break the press on the dribble, they were forced to pass around it, a strategy that proved treacherous against the trapping, ever-kinetic Gauchos.

A strong press requires depth, and Casa has it.
“Anyone can step up on our team,” senior guard Joey Rodriguez said. “Our bench is big, and any starter can score.”
If the league champion Gauchos are to make a run in the North Coast Section tournament, it will likely be on the strength of Wednesday’s formula: hounding defense, strong rebounding, unselfish ball movement.
At the heart of it all is Rodriguez, a poised leader on both ends of the floor. Rodriguez’s court vision serves him well on the offensive end, and his long limbs frustrate opponents going the other way.

“The attention he draws really helps us a lot,” Forni said. “He has the ability to get open, and to get others open. It’s one thing to be able to handle the ball. But there’s a whole other ability, that court awareness and passing ability.”
Rodriguez has had strong support from senior big men Josh Hayworth and Nick Sherry all season, and this game was no exception. Rodriguez had 27 points, seven assists, five rebounds and six steals. Hayworth had 13 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. Sherry added 10 points and four steals.

On a generally blue-collar night, there was at least one flashy moment, early in the third period when Rodriguez stole the ball from a Petaluma player, dribbled down court and tossed a lob to Hayworth, who slammed it home to get Casa Grande’s cramped gym rocking.
Anthony Sequiera led the Trojans with seven points and 10 rebounds. Petaluma forced Casa into 15 turnovers in a herky-jerky game.

The difference was that the Gauchos’ unnerving defense forced Petaluma into long spans of scorelessness — 3½ minutes in the first quarter, 4½ minutes in the second and more than three minutes in the third. The Trojans then had just one point over the final 3:50 of the game.

“That’s our goal — get after it on defense,” Forni said.
Analy is the only SCL opponent to have broken 60 points on Casa, which has won eight in a row, 13 of its past 14, and 21 of 23. Rodriguez gave much of the credit to Forni, who rarely looks emotional during games.
“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” Rodriguez said. “He knows when to have fun, and when to get serious.”

Now might one of those serious times. Petaluma has one more league game, against Sonoma Valley on Friday, but Casa Grande is already preparing for the SCL tournament. Forni’s team is looking for a better showing than last year’s one-and-done, hoping for a decent seed in the NCS Div. II bracket.
All in all, the Empire’s most surprising boys’ team is feeling pretty good about itself at the moment.

“I honestly believe we can get anybody on any given night,” Forni said.

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