The title of best boys basketball team on Foster Road once again belongs to St. Joseph – following Friday’s 87-57 rout of rival Righetti at Hofschulte Gym.
The Knights entered the home contest with the CIF Central Section No. 2 ranking in Division I according to Max Preps and having won the last three of four meetings against their neighboring rival.
And the Knights rolled in front of a standing room only crowd by sticking to a common blueprint under head coach Tom Mott: Having more than two scorers in double figures.
E.J Brinez used his 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame to grab rebounds and put the basketball back inside the net – scoring eight second-chance points en route to 18 on the evening. Angel Ortiz continued his 3-point marksman prowess; swishing nine points through long range attempts and led the Knights with 21 points.
But St. Joseph went on to have three more players fill the stat sheet with double figures in scoring, including one who got the Knights’ student section to gleefully cheer loud and proud through his dunks.
Sophomore Samuel Bazunga charged to the net twice and finished by leaping to the air, throwing down the basketball plus drawing the foul – getting the Knight fans to either record the thrilling plays through their phones or bellow out cheers that created loud decibel levels inside the SJHS gym.
Bazunga ended his evening by delivering 10 points. Jincho Rivera and Kainoa Keuma were the final two SJHS players to reach double figures by scoring 13 points apiece.
Scoring nights like this aren’t rare for St. Joseph, Mott says.
“We have five guys who average in double figures so far in league,” the veteran head coach said.
But the Knights had to overcome the brief departure of sharpshooter and facilitator Steven Vasquez, who left in the second half with what looked like a high ankle sprain. Vasquez ended the evening with five points.
“Some of the other guys really stepped it up and did a great job,” Mott said.
Defensively, the biggest key for the now 19-3 Knights (6-0 in the Mountain League) was to slow down top Warrior big man Caleb Thomas – the same Thomas who will soon suit up for the Tulane Green Wave next football season.
Thomas got underneath the hoop and used his frame and wing span to get the ball inside the net for a team-high 18 points, but the Knights did what they could to fluster him with double teams and by forcing him to take some uncomfortable attempts.
Mott left the game praising the Warrior multi-sport star.
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“Caleb Thomas is an absolute beast,” Mott said. “It was great for him to play one last time. He’s going to do great things for football.”
Brinez had one of the tasks of trying to defend him while cleaning up the glass and netting the second chance baskets.
“I knew I had to control the boards to help win this game,” Brinez said. “Caleb is a big dude and he’s hard to guard. But I thought we all did a really good job on him and he worked his hardest.”
On the Warriors’ side, RHS (4-16 overall, 2-4 in the Mountain League) saw early jolts of energy through Thomas, Jackson Moore and John Costa. The latter player started the evening by receiving a long lob from Thomas and finishing with the fast break layup.
St. Joseph, however, swooped up the rebounds and forced multiple turnovers from there – as the likes of Rivera, Brinez and football star Chase Artopoeus snatched up steals, with Artopoeus playing the role of free safety on one play and catching a long aerial pass from Righetti for the steal during the second quarter.
Thomas was the lone Warrior to score past 10 points. Costa and Canaan Reynolds both scored nine points apiece.
RHS head coach and athletic director Kevin Barbarick has had to endure a growth period with his young roster, plus pointed out how the school couldn’t find an immediate replacement for the departure of Jeremiah Rivas which prompted the A.D to give coaching another try. Barbarick, though, liked how the Warriors competed despite the circumstances they’ve faced all season long.
“I thought we battled. We didn’t have the depth or athleticism that they have. But we hung around for awhile and had some bright spots. So you focus on that,” Barbarick said.
Barbarick has seen this play out before during his first stint as head coach.
“I came in, didn’t have a summer, got there in the fall and the first year we won six games. Then the next year we won 18,” Barbarick said. “Then we went to the playoffs for the next 19 seasons. We’re just rebuilding that culture and the guys are buying in. They’re a great group of young men.”
As for Mott, he and his staff are aiming to keep the Knights humbled and focus with the high ranking and community praise that surrounds them.
“It’s one of our main jobs as coaches. They’re kids and they’re 15 and 16 years old. Sometimes they’ll believe the hype a little bit, but it’s our jobs as coaches to keep everybody grounded and let them know what we’re really focused on and that’s getting better every day,” Mott said.
San Marcos 65, Lompoc 55
The effort was there throughout the night for the Braves against the defending Channel League champs on the road, but the Royals held on for the Friday night win at SMHS.
Collin Oestereich led LHS with 12 points.