Work hard, play harder.

That’s the mantra — the guiding philosophy of the Santa Ynez High Pirates’ boys basketball program.

Under head coach Ray Vazquez and assistant coach Manny Molera, the Pirates are already working hard to get ready for the 2019-20 season.

While school may be out for the summer, the Pirates’ summer program is in full swing.

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Santa Ynez High basketball player Dylan Peters takes a shot during shooting drills at summer practice on Tuesday, July 11.

“We were off in February and March and then started back up in April,” said Manny as he led practice on Tuesday night. “We’ll practice most nights until the end of July and take two weeks off — then we’ll get back to it again.”

The boys aren’t just running through endless practices, they’re also getting the chance to play real games.

“We were down at the Mater Dei summer tournament last weekend,” said Molera. “We didn’t do that well but we were playing some outstanding teams.

“The weekend was a real eye-opener for us. We played strong teams like Crespi, (Newport Beach) Corona del Mar and Corona Centennial, the No. 2 team in the state.”

But Molera says strong teams are what the Pirates need to face.

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Santa Ynez High School assistant boys basketball coach Manny Molera leads summer practice on Tuesday, June 11. The Pirates' team motto "Work Hard, Play Harder, is prominently displayed on the back of Molera's practice jersey.

“We didn’t win but that was not the point. It was a great experience for the boys to see that level of play, to play against some outstanding teams,” said Molera. “It was good to see the kids working so hard, they never quit.”

It was also good to be included in the Mater Dei lineup.

“Not every school can do this. The Mater Dei tournament was an invitational and we hope we’ll be invited back again,” said Molera. “(Channel League foe) Dos Pueblos was there, too. You can see why Dos Pueblos is always good because they can play at that high level. Hopefully, in the next couple of years, we’ll be at the level, too.”

With the Mater Dei tournament in their rearview mirror, the Pirates turned their attention to local summer games.

“But we’ll take some valuable lessons forward with us,” said Molera. “Ray and I were impressed with how hard the team worked. When you play that level of competition, you’ve got to raise up your level of play. We definitely saw a lot of improvement.

“It was such a great experience. The boys got to stay with the families of other players and coaches. They learned a lot and made some great new friends, too.”

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Santa Ynez High basketball player Caleb Cassidy goes in for a layup during shooting drills at practice on Tuesday, July 11.

The Pirates returned home and then played two games Wednesday night at Bishop Diego, the first against Dos Pueblos followed by a matchup against Bishop Diego with more summer games on the horizon.

The summer program also gives the coaches their first chance to see the incoming freshman class in action.

“The freshmen aren’t new to us. Ray and I have been working with most of these boys on our club team for the last three or four years,” said Molera. “The club team is mostly seventh and eighth graders. It gives us a chance to really work on the fundamentals with the younger boys so they learn the basics earlier to really give them a good foundation. The younger players have been working out at the YMCA (across the street from Santa Ynez High) and they are just now transitioning over to the high school gym.

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Santa Ynez High School assistant boys basketball coach Manny Molera leads practice on Tuesday, June 11. The Pirates' summer basketball program is underway and continues through the end of July.

"And we’ve established a basketball academy for third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade kids because we want to establish a strong foundation for all our kids.”

And like the varsity, the junior varsity and freshman teams are involved in summer league play.

The varsity is set to play in one more tournament before the summer dark period begins — a four day tournament from July 18-21 in Palm Springs.

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Santa Ynez High basketball player Dylan Brandon Pizano takes a jump shot during shooting drills at practice on Tuesday, July 11.

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Senior Sports Reporter

Elliott Stern has worked at Lee Central Coast Newspapers for the last 18 years after more than 30 years working in television and radio news and sports.