In perhaps the biggest game of the year so far for the San Benito boys basketball team, Jacob Tonascia had his best game on the offensive end in his three-year varsity career.
The San Benito center led they way with a game-high 21 points as the Balers rolled to their second-consecutive Gilroy High Bob Hagen Invitational championship by beating Live Oak 73-37 on Saturday. It was the first time in three years, Tonascia, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, scored more than 16 points in a game.
The Balers fed Tonascia early and often, as the Balers grabbed an early 15-6 lead and never looked back. With Tonascia scoring, the Balers shut down Live Oak on the defensive end.
The Acorns, who scored more than 60 points in victories over Anzar and Gilroy, were held to only 12 second-half points and poor shooting from the floor. They could never find room for an open shot.
“We came out firing,” Tonascia said. “We didn’t take any time to get into game mode. We came to play our game and make them catch up to us. That’s going to make the biggest difference this season, if we can do that we will – ultimately – be successful. We just had the will. Everybody didn’t want to let their guys score.”
Live Oak, meanwhile, struggled to accomplish their pregame goals of stopping the Balers easy shots in the paint and grab rebounds, head coach Brett Paolucci said.
“The kids, I told them I was really proud of how they came out and played,” Paolucci said. “We achieved our goal of getting here. Coming into today, we knew it was going to be a tough game. We all knew that. Some of things that we talked about didn’t pan out in the game. We didn’t do a very good job of that tonight. But they are a well-coached and physical team. We knew what we were in for. I wished we played a little better and it was a closer result.”
But it was an important finish for the Acorns, who defeated the Mustangs in Gilroy for the first time since 2004, junior Luke Laguna said.
“We played as bad as defense as you can play, but this is good,” he said. “We don’t see many teams like this. It’s good when we get to play a team this good.”
Laguna finished with a team-high 10 points for the Acorns. Along with forward Kalum Bergstrom (10 points), Laguna was one of the few bright spots for the Acorns during Saturday’s loss.
Six Acorns combined for Live Oak’s 37 points on the night. But after trailing 38-25 at halftime, Live Oak never found any offensive consistency.
Behind the strong defense of Robert Henderson (six points), Hyram Miskin (17 points), Robbie Skinner (12 points) and Tonascia the Baler pulled complete away in the final 16 minutes. Nine Balers combined for points in the win.
“Today was a great game because I played everybody and the defense stayed the same the whole way,” SBHS head coach David Kaplansky said. “Sometimes in practice you have a little bit of a let down. Every guy that I played did a good job playing defense. I’m just really proud of the entire weekend.”
Tonascia’s further growth in the paint, though, gives the Balers hope in the league season, Kaplansky said.
“He is confident,” he said. “We put such a big stress on the paint this year because of his confidence in practice. He is a third year guy and it’s really showing. He is off to a fantastic start. With the way he is playing it’s the reason why we are 7-1. I’m really proud of the way he is playing right now. He is off to a great start.”
Despite his increased offensive presence, Tonascia still feels the same, he said.
“I really don’t know,” Tonascia said. “I feel the exact the same. I guess I’m asking for the ball more and taking more shots. I’m being more aggressive but I don’t know. They are just going in.”
The Balers (7-1) season continues Thursday when they open the Palma Luis A. Scattini Memorial Tournament against Santa Cruz at 3:30 p.m.
For Live Oak, the Acorns hope their success over the weekend carries through the season, Paolucci said.
“We want momentum,” he said. “And we know that it was a little rejuvenation for this team. We can play. This is going to get us ready for league. It was good for us. But we still have to play a game of four quarters. We need to come out and pay hard. Play hard and play smarter. We can learn from games like this.”
Live Oak’s season continues against Cupertino at 6 p.m. on Dec. 28 in Morgan Hill.
Christopher 74, Anzar 15
Behind 15 points from Wyatt Rocheleau, the Christopher boys basketball team defeated Anzar 74-15 in the Hagen seventh-place game Saturday.
Evan Shapiro and Samaki Johnson each added 14 points in the win. Andrew Foster scored 10 points.
Anzar is now 0-7 and will play St. Francis Central Coast Catholic at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Cougars improve to 5-3 and will host Gilroy at 7 p.m. Monday.