By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SEBASTOPOL — After a season-opening road odyssey that spanned 16 games over 50 days, Analy finally played on its home court Thursday night and, boy, did the Tigers have a good time.
Quicker than you can say “home cooking,” the Tigers had raced to a 16-0 lead over SCL rival Casa Grande. When the final buzzer sounded, the result was a resounding 63-31 victory.
The near-capacity crowd, made up primarily of Analy students and local residents, were excited to see the home team in action and shook the gym every time the Tigers scored.
The players were also excited and began by hitting four of their first five shots. When point guard Jalen Gilbert drained a 3-pointer with 3:25 left in the period, the lead was 16-0.
Analy wound up hitting 10-of-16 shots in the quarter, including four from beyond the arc.
Trailing 26-6 after one, Casa Grande never recovered.
The outcome figured to be much closer as the Gauchos came in with an 11-6 record and were 3-0 in league. Road-weary Analy was 8-8 and 2-0.
Every season, Analy tries to commit to playing a tough pre-league, but this year coach Brett Page admitted he didn’t plan on 16 road games to start the season.
“It never turned out that way before,” he said. “We had home-and-home agreements with some schools and this was their year to host. Then, we were invited to several tournaments that had Division I and II teams and I didn’t want to turn those opportunities down.”
As luck would have it, when SCL play began, the Tigers’ first two games were on the road.
For the record, Analy’s journey began Nov. 23 at Montgomery. In the ensuing weeks, the players climbed on the bus for trips to El Cerrito, Hercules, San Anselmo, Sacramento, Mountain View, Healdsburg and Forestville.
The strategy of playing a tough pre-league is paying off. The Tigers’ average margin of victory in their initial three SCL games is 33 points.
Gilbert, who had a game-high 16 points, said he and his teammates were sky-high for the first home game.
“Everyone was excited,” he said. “To start the season with so many road games in a row was tough. It was a thrill to look up in the stands and see so many people rooting for us.
“I think it was our best game of the season, especially the first half. Playing tough teams to begin the year definitely made us tougher mentally and physically.
“We also had another purpose. Casa beat us at home last year and we weren’t going to let them do that again.”
Gilbert, who came in averaging 6½ points per game, had twice that many points at intermission. The 5-foot-10 senior also had five steals, five rebounds and four assists.
Six-foot-7 center Nathan Benjamin also had a big game for the Tigers, with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Casa came in averaging 50 points per game, but shot only 23 percent in the first half when the game was decided.
Scott Mayer was the only Gaucho in double figures with 10. Chase Stafford, who came in with a team-high 10-point average, didn’t score.
“We didn’t show up,” Casa coach James Forni said. “We knew Analy would be excited to get back home and we tried to get our kids ready. We’d been playing good, but Analy made it happen and we didn’t.”
After a brief stop at home, the Tigers will be back on the road for their next game. That’s next Tuesday at Sonoma Valley.
Analy then will finish the regular season with four more away games and six at home.