The faraway looks and soggy eyes said it all—this one hurt the deepest. A year after advancing to its first-ever Central Coast Section championship game, the Christopher High boys basketball team couldn’t replicate the feat in a 66-62 loss to Leigh in a Division II playoff quarterfinal on Tuesday. The No. 5 seed Cougars (9-4) were coming off a 93-55 blitzing of Oak Grove last Saturday, but they fell behind early and never got in sync long enough to switch the outcome against Leigh.
“We came off a game where everyone was shooting the lights out, and today they didn’t fall early so everybody looked a little timid from there on out,” Christopher coach Tim Von Urff said.
That included the very end, when the Cougars committed a turnover on their final possession as a result of miscommunication with 6.7 seconds left. They were trailing by two points at the time and were forced to foul, but Leigh made two free throws to account for the final margin.
“We were a little too indecisive at the end,” Von Urff said. “Nobody looked like they wanted to do it, nobody wanted to mess up and when you overcomplicate things and overthink things too much, too hard, that happens.”
Recent CHS graduates Owen McCarry and Duncan Ellis led the team with 22 and 11 points, respectively. The Cougars trailed by as many as 11 points and despite yielding 10 layups and several other baskets in the lane, they took their first and only lead of the game, 62-60, when Jeremy Jacinto hit a shot from the left elbow with 1:40 left.
However, the host Longhorns scored the final six points of the game to end the Cougars’ season. CHS couldn’t contain Leigh’s outstanding guard play of Colin Mantle (25 points) and Zach Norcia (17 points), who combined to shoot an ultra efficient 16-for-24 from the field (66.6 percent). Time and again, the two got the shots they wanted, and even when they were contested, they converted some tough ones.
“We saw a little film of their guards and they were quicker than they looked on film for sure,” Von Urff said. “They did make some tough shots that I didn’t think were going to go in but they did, so credit to them. Us applying full-court pressure, we almost looked a little tired. But again, we weren’t rotating and they were splitting us in the middle of the floor. And that’s the biggest thing with us, we don’t usually give up the middle of the floor because of the way we play our defense. If the other team gets there, we overextend ourselves and good things don’t happen at that point. That got us bad.”
E.J. Yufenyuy had nine points and led CHS with six offensive rebounds. He was active on the glass all game and plays tough in the paint. Tobenna Ezeokeke had eight and Jacinto and Rickey Becker finished with six points each to round out the team’s scoring. Jacinto provided a spark with the Cougars trailing 30-23 late in the second quarter. The incoming senior forced two consecutive Leigh turnovers to ignite a mini 7-0 run to make it 30-30.
Another highlight was Ellis blocking two of Leigh’s first three shots; however, those moments for the team were few and far between.
“We were still there the whole time and maybe we were just waiting for it to go the other way,” Von Urff said. “It didn’t and we found ourselves in a situation we didn’t want to be in.”
Despite exiting earlier than they expected, Von Urff expressed pride in all of his players, especially for the seniors who helped build what he hopes is a permeating culture that exists within the program for the foreseeable future.
“They did a great job of setting the foundation to have all the young kids and returners ready to go,” Von Urff said. “Now everyone knows how important it is to come out ready to be a dog as we like to say.”
CHS will lose Ellis and McCarry but will return standouts Ezeokeke, Becker, Chris Naulls, Yufenyuy, Jacinto and Chigozie Okeke.
“We just have to keep working to get better,” Von Urff said.