BASKETBALL: Mustangs’ press defense the difference in second half, turn away rival Balers, 64-53

Go mustangs!

GILROY – The past collided with the present and produced a night
to remember as the Gilroy High boys basketball team wore down
visiting Tri County Athletic League foe San Benito in a 64-53
victory in front of a capacity crowd crammed inside Bob Hagen
Gymnasium on Friday night.
GILROY – The past collided with the present and produced a night to remember as the Gilroy High boys basketball team wore down visiting Tri County Athletic League foe San Benito in a 64-53 victory in front of a capacity crowd crammed inside Bob Hagen Gymnasium on Friday night.

The only variable missing from Friday’s barnburner that distinguished it from a college-level atmosphere was a boisterous Dick Vitale exclaiming the “awesome” play of both teams.

“It was fun, this is what it is all about,” GHS head coach Jeremy Dirks said of the ruckus environment. “It is what high school basketball and sports are all about.”

The electricity that already surrounds any matchup between the two rival schools was magnified with the return of coach Tracy Carpenter, who ran the Mustangs’ varsity program from 1982-92, compiling a 215-99 record in that span.

Now at the helm of his alma mater, Carpenter was welcomed by a number of GHS basketball alumni, including Dirks, and others who traveled from out of town to catch the game.

“I think at least four of them flew in for tonight,” Carpenter said before the game. “It is exciting. I think the only difference is that (Gilroy) dresses in a different locker room now. It is a special night.”

Despite the story lines off the court, the action on the floor immediately took center stage, and when the dust settled, it came down to one simple phrase, “the press.”

In a classic tale of two halves, the Balers couldn’t have asked for a better start to the contest. Effectively shutting down GHS’ leading scorer Greg Hamik (2-of-9 from the field in the first half) as well as the rest of the Mustangs’ offense, San Benito caught the home team by surprise handing its vaunted press defense with ease en route to a 25-17 halftime lead.

“We did a nice job on (Hamik),” Carpenter said. “We did a good job defensively in the first half and we beat the press enough. In the end, though, the press beat us.”

Hamik still managed 14 points in the game, knocking down 10-of-10 from the free throw line.

The Mustangs (13-3, 4-0) shot just 20 percent (6-of-29) in the first half and uncharacteristically allowed 10 offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points in the process.

“We couldn’t find anyone to score,” Dirks said. “Tracy is always very well prepared. He had a great game plan. He really set the framework for me being organized as well. He’s a coach’s coach.”

The second half was a totally different ball game as the Mustangs came out with a higher level of intensity on defense, enacting a tenacious full-court press that crippled the Balers down the stretch.

“I told them at the half that it was now or never, and that this is what we work hard for,” Dirks said. “We ratcheted it up. Our press picked up and that’s what we do.”

The Mustangs forced 18 Baler turnovers that proved to be the difference.

Both teams came out tight, exchanging turnovers in an up-tempo first quarter that didn’t produce much offense from either side. Senior center Devin Wingo’s layup gave the Balers a slim 11-9 lead at the end of one.

Wingo put San Benito up by 10 points with time winding down in the second quarter, before guard Cameron Yawary beat the buzzer to keep the Mustangs within single digits at the break, 25-17.

Six straight points by the Mustangs, including four by senior Andrel Gaines, quickly turned into a 14-4 run and a 31-29 GHS lead midway through the third quarter.

The Mustangs made an effort to get to the hoop in the second half instead of settling for jumpers that weren’t connecting all night.

The change of plans on offense worked, and when the initial layups wouldn’t fall, the Mustangs were frequently drawing fouls and converting on the freebies.

“We talked in the locker room and wanted to get to the hole more,” Hamik said. “We were able to do that and get the lead.”

The Mustangs converted 21-of-25 free throws.

The Balers regained the lead after an Eric Elayda 3-pointer, but back-to-back layups by senior Michael Aldridge gave the Mustangs a 35-33 advantage.

Two Michael Hartman buckets and a Dolapo Opere lay-in helped the Mustangs take a 41-35 cushion into the final period.

A 3-pointer by Balers point guard Tyler Rickard evened things at 42-42, but it was all Mustangs after that as they outscored the Balers 22-10 to the buzzer.

“It all started with our defense in that second half,” Opere said. “We started getting more steals and picked up our intensity.”

Gilroy outscored San Benito 47-28 in the second half.

Gaines posted a game-high 15 points and Opere, who had a key steal and save that set up Aldridge’s game-tying layup in the third quarter, contributed 12 points.

Elayda ended the night with 11 points, including three 3-pointers to lead all Baler scorers. Wingo finished his night with eight.

The Mustangs improve to 4-0 in TCAL play, the Balers drop to 2-1.

San Benito hosts Palma while Gilroy travels to face North Salinas next Wednesday.

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