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Central Coast Classic: St. Joseph's banner 2015-16 basketball season ended abruptly
Central Coast Classic

Central Coast Classic: St. Joseph's banner 2015-16 basketball season ended abruptly

The St. Joseph boys basketball team was riding high in 2016.

The Knights defeated La Canada Flintridge Prep 63-45 to win the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA championship. Led by point guard JoJo Walker and fellow senior Gabrys Sadaunykas, St. Joseph was 31-3.

The Knights had played 11 games in their Hofschulte Gym and had won them all, including the top seed's routs of Riverdale and Chula Vista Bonita Vista in the first two rounds of the Southern Cal regional in the CIF Division 5 State Tournament.

Then along came No. 4 Playa del Rey St. Bernard and their dynamic senior point guard Robert Fuller in the regional semifinals.

The Knights simply couldn't solve Fuller in the first half. He had 17 points at intermission and his team had a 44-24 lead. St. Joseph never recovered, and the Vikings came away with a 75-66 win, a stunning ending to the Knights' banner season.

St. Joseph coach Tom Mott said afterward that he and his team talked about keeping Fuller from getting to the rim. The Knights just couldn't do it.

"He was a tough match-up for us," Mott said.

"Oh, yeah, he was as tough a point guard as any we've faced all season," said Sadaunykas.

The packed and enthusiastic St. Joseph home crowd did not have much to cheer about in the first half. The Knights' vaunted pressure defense forced exactly one turnover.

When Fuller wasn't scoring, he was dishing off to teammates for baskets. The Knights, looking out of sync on offense, were 6-for-25 from the field.

"The first half, I think they wanted it more than we did," Sadaunykas said afterward.

The Knights led 13-9 early. Then the Vikings in general and Fuller in particular took apart their zone defense. Shane Williams made a scoop shot in the lane to put St. Bernard ahead 14-13, and the Knights saw no more of the lead.

With St. Joseph down 60-39 in the third, Walker shot the Knights back into contention. He made back-to-back 3s and the Knights, with the partisan home crowd roaring its approval, closed the third quarter with an 11-0 run and were within 60-50 when the fourth quarter started.

Sadaunykas missed an easy layup, one of four the Knights missed, in the early seconds of the fourth and that was pretty much it for St. Joseph's chances.

Julian Ross converted an old-fashioned three-point play to put the Vikings ahead 63-52, and the Knights came no closer than eight after that.

Ross and Fuller salted away the the win for the Vikings when they both made two free throws with less than a minute left.

Fuller finished with 24 points. Williams had 14, and Ross and Adam Amanuel scored 10 points each for the Vikings.

Walker, who ultimately signed with Portland, finished with 23 points. Sadaunykas, who transferred to Hancock College after his first two years in college, scored 16.

"With two yards to go for a CIF football championship, South Torrance put the ball in the hands of their toughest running back, Eric Capacchione," Brad Memberto wrote on Dec. 10, 2010. "As he made the turn towards the end zone, Lompoc linebacker Joseph Valla reached down deep and pulled the fullback down just short of the goal line.

"It's hard to come back from a 20-point deficit," Sadaunykas said afterward. "We gave it our best effort for our fans.

"We accomplished a lot for our fans, who supported us so much. It was an honor to play for fans who supported us like that."

St. Bernard lost to Temecula Rancho Christian, the same team that beat the Vikings in the 5A championship game, in the regional final.

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Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000. BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona. BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.

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