The San Marino High School varsity boys’ basketball team’s playoff run came to end in last Friday as the Titans fell to No. 5-seeded host Hacienda Heights Wilson, 73-58, in a CIF Southern Section Division 4AA first-round game.
The Wildcats (22-7 overall record) jumped out to an 18-2 lead in the first quarter and built a 44-21 advantage at the half.
The Titans (15-14 overall) fought back and chipped away at Wilson’s lead in the final quarter, but the deficit was too much to overcome for a young San Marino squad.
“Definitely not the start we were looking for,” SMHS head coach Mihail Papadopulos wrote in an email. “They were hot and we unfortunately just started the game too timid. When you play a team like Wilson, which has a league MVP and just plays hard, execution, taking care of the ball and shot selections are so crucial to staying connected.”
Sean O’Brien led San Marino with 17 points and Lemuel Li added 11 points. Ethan Deng netted nine points, Joey Fuerst scored eight points, Eric Fu finished with seven points and six rebounds, Cristian Mata tallied four points, three rebounds and two blocks, and Michael Baldocchi contributed two points and nine rebounds.
“I am proud of our boys and the grit they showed all season long,” Papadopulos said. “Our boys showed that they could accomplish a tremendous amount together despite being young in varsity experience and found success through their toughness and relentless efforts. Their togetherness was fun, and I am thankful to our seniors who reinforced our culture and the importance of chemistry.”
That grit and chemistry was what propelled San Marino to a 43-40 victory over host Pasadena Poly in a Division 4AA wild card game on Wednesday, Feb. 6.
The Titans trailed the Panthers by seven, 26-19, in the third quarter but stormed back behind the hot shooting of Deng. The junior guard made three consecutive 3-pointers to give the visitors a 28-27 lead with 2:54 remaining in the quarter.
“It was huge,” Papadopulos said. “He’s been doing that for us. We needed him to do that for us. He also attracts a lot of attention on the court so we can do stuff with that too as far as get other guys open because the defense keys on him. [The 3-pointers] gave us so much energy.”
San Marino’s biggest lead came at the right time late in the fourth quarter when Li buried a clutch free throw to give the Titans a 41-37 advantage with less than 40 seconds remaining.
The Panthers missed two shots from beyond the arc in the final seconds and fell short against a tough San Marino squad.
“We definitely had to have some grit against Poly,” Papadopulos said. “That’s a good team out there, and they shoot the ball really well. They’re disciplined. We knew they were going to be well coached, so we knew we were just going to have to play a good, disciplined, tough game. Our guys played tough and made plays in the fourth quarter, made some free throws. I’m proud of those guys.”
Deng led the Titans with 18 points, and O’Brien added ine points. Li netted seven points, Eric Fu finished with six points and seven rebounds, Brian Zhang had two points and Michael Baldocchi grabbed 10 rebounds.”
“I really thought about the seniors and their season,” Deng said. “I didn’t want to let them down. I thought we had chemistry going and I didn’t want to let it break.”
The seniors on the roster include Jason Wee, Chris Wicke, Mata, Baldocchi and Fu.