Relatively late in the fourth period of Tuesday night’s Valley (League) opener between host San Pasqual and the Valley Center Jaguars, the Golden Eagles appeared as if they had matters locked up and were primed to put the game in the refrigerator.
After active SP big man Mason McCreary had registered consecutive blocks that snuffed out a pair of VC shot attempts, G. Eagle guards Anderson Pham and Nathan Zafra shortly thereafter drilled a couple of long-distance treys that swelled the home team’s lead to a whopping 51-37. At that point, the Jags gave a great impression of a squad on life support. In short, they looked done.
But you can always count on a Jon Jones coached team to never to pack it in, regardless of the circumstances, dire or not. Digging down deep and mustering a concerted push, the Jags rose from their near-death experience and in incredibly swift time, actually made a game out of it.
First, senior Ethan Bachman nailed a corner trey. Then blond-haired Seth Schulz delivered on a jump shot. Next it was Isaac Contreras hitting on a chippie down deep. And when Bachman converted a layup and subsequently tacked on a free throw for a conventional 3-point play, in what seemed like a flash the Jags had closed to within four.
Moreover, there was still sufficient time to perhaps finish off what would have been a miraculous comeback. With their fans now roaring in support, the Jags had multiple chances to draw within one on an ensuing possession but misfired on a couple of trifecta attempts.
VC did manage to get even closer, however, when Contreras drew a foul while driving to the hole. Though he was able to sink his first charity toss, the second went awry; which still left the Jags three points in arrears.
SP senior guard Nick Danilovic had an opportunity to apply the dagger but he missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Jags rebounded and hustled into the front court whereupon coach Jones signaled for a time out with just 13 seconds left. Unable to get a decent look from beyond the arc, VC had to settle for a Contreras dash to the hoop and when he failed to connect, G. Eagle Taylor Banister was there to gather in the carom, which all but assured the final outcome of 51-48.
With the triumph, SP improved its overall record to 7-11 but more importantly, the G. Eagles had kicked off their Valley (League) slate on a positive note. “I’m excited to get the win,” said SP coach Erik Meek whose club was coming off some tough tournament action so a victory was a most welcomed result. “I was very happy with our defensive effort for three-and-a-half quarters but we let up somewhat and they played tough at the end and got back into things.”
Armed with a noticeable size advantage, the G. Eagles played to that strength and got plenty of production from a trio of frontcourt players in the personages of Mickal Orange (10 points), the aforementioned McCreary (8 pts.) and Daniel Palmer (7 pts.) each of whom were factors on the boards, the scoring sheet and on the defensive end. “Those guys are really starting to learn how to use their height and take advantage of it,” praised Meek.
And while SP was establishing a formidable inside presence, it was also getting terrific outside bombing from Zafra who stroked four from downtown en route to a team high 14 points.
As for VC, which was without the services of bona fide contributors Malachi Avila and Zach Reser, its overall mark slipped to 7-10 having lost for the fourth time in the past six outings. An indication that the Jags had trouble getting into an offense flow and that SP’s defense proved problematic at times was by the fact that the Jags finished some 16 points below their seasonal scoring average of 64.
Contreras, who entered the contest as VC’s most dangerous offensive threat, was top dog again in the point department with a total of 13. In many ways, it was his timely and influential play down the stretch that helped ignite VC’s late surge.
Another Jaguar player who stood out was the hardnosed John Amago, who tallied 10 points, did some notable work underneath and gave good effort throughout.
Other VC performers of note were Bachman (8 pts.) who came on late and Nicanor Alvarado, who registered all of his 7 points in the final two periods.
The G. Eagles were destined to outscore the visitors in each of the first three periods and with their 8-2 blitz early in the fourth, an SP victory seemed a foregone conclusion. But this merely set the stage for the Jags to make their valiant run that would ultimately fall just short.
Despite being seriously challenged down the homestretch, when McCreary made a bucket off a sweet up-and-in move that put his team ahead 9-8 late in the first stanza, the hosts would never relinquish the lead from that point on.
Though rather mystified by his club’s abysmal free-throw shooting against the Jags which prevented SP from putting VC away and allowed the visitors to hang around – “We’re much better than that from the line,” Meek insisted – the coach was nonetheless upbeat about how his squad is trending.
He mentioned how the additions of Del Lago transfers Palmer and Cole Cook have greatly added to the team’s chemistry. Meek also believes that this might be one of the most complete teams he’s guided at SP. “I’m excited to see what lays ahead for us,” he said. “And winning this game is a good place to start.”
Indeed, it was a rewarding win to begin the league campaign and one that could signify even better things to come. But it didn’t come easy and the dogged Jags, who seemed to be totally out of it, made the G. Eagles genuinely sweat until the final buzzer had sounded.