The Christopher boys’ basketball team has reached the Central Coast Section playoffs the last four years and advanced to the final in three of those seasons.
This year, they are battling through a challenging 2023-24 league season with eyes on more playoff successes.
“We have a lot of young guys and we’re inexperienced,” Cougars coach Adam Sax said. “The more we play, the more we come together. Uriah (Brown) is our leading scorer. Jaxen (Robinson) leads in rebounding. We try to push the ball and we’ll pound it inside when we have the opportunity. Defense is our foundation.”
The Cougars currently stand with an 8-9 overall record, and are 3-3 in the ultra-competitive Blossom Valley Athletic League Mt. Hamilton Division.
Branham High—ranked as one of the best teams in the entire Bay Area—leads at 6-0, followed by Santa Teresa High at 5-1.
Christopher and Leigh are tied for third ahead of Oak Grove, Evergreen Valley and Independence.
In recent league matches, Christopher nearly toppled Branham, falling by just 56-53.
The nailbiter pattern continued as the Cougars edged Leigh, 47-44, and lost, 50-49, at Oak Grove.
Christopher then rolled big time, smashing Evergreen Valley, 60-39, and then a 59-27 blowout win over Independence.
In the Oak Grove game, Brown led the Cougars with 21 points, Nico Ragasa added seven and Trey Caragio scored five.
Oak Grove was led by Matteo Sanchez with 17 points and Jaden Sweeney with 16 points.
Sweeney was clearly the best Oak Grove player on the court but coach Sax devised a stifling multiplayer defense to keep him under control, holding him to just one hoop after the first quarter.
“We played our hearts out tonight,” said Brown after the last-second loss at Oak Grove. “I’m proud of my teammates. We played through some adversity. This will strengthen us.”
During a wild and intense fourth quarter, Brown came through in the clutch.
A controversial 4-point play for the Eagles erased a Cougars lead with 1:16 remaining to play. The deficit was 48-46 when the 6-foot senior guard drained a deep 3-pointer from five feet behind the arc to push the Cougars on top 49-48 with just 39 seconds left on the game clock.
“I’ve never shot a shot I haven’t shot 1,000 times in practice,” Brown said. “It’s through all the hard work I put in. On the mental side, it’s calm breathing and I do meditation.”
That could have been the decider but as Christopher put the clamps on Sweeney, the littlest player on the floor came through.
Kenneth Vo, generously listed at 5-foot-4, made his only basket of the game on a drive to give Oak Grove a 50-49 victory.
“We made some plays,” Sax said. “It was hard to stop No. 3 (Sweeney). We did a double-team on him. But then they drove and got a layup. For Christopher, we moved the ball well. Uriah hit some great shots. Trey did a great job. So did Quinn (Ledesma).”
Bryant Yufenyuy, Tyler Green, Sam Guenther, Rafael Urrabazo and Nico Ragasa contributed in the Christopher backcourt and on the wings. Ebuka Okeke supported inside, along with the sophomore Ledesma, who made plays all over the court.
“Christopher is very well-coached,” Oak Grove coach Tino Mendoza said. “They are solid, tough and physical. They don’t allow cutters to get through the lane.”
A resilient Christopher group rebounded by whipping Evergreen Valley. The Cougars led 24-14 at halftime and won by 21 points.
Brown led the offense with 21 points and Robinson contributed 18, while Ragasa and Okeke each added seven points.
Christopher traveled to Independence two days later and bounced the Sixers 59-27. Robinson led a diverse attack with 12 points, Brown added nine and Caragio and Okeke each scored seven.
Coach Sax put together a very challenging non-league schedule to battletest and harden his squad.
A recent look at opponents’ records showed they were 45-6, according to Sax. Wins came over Leland (53-33), Leigh (58-43), Ukiah (60-43), and Casa Grande (61-35).
That was before the Saturday matinee against powerhouse Menlo-Atherton where the Cougars shined with a 58-48 statement victory over the Bears.
Last season, Menlo-Atherton defeated Christopher, 53-42, and owned victories over Los Gatos and Valley Christian, both of whom had topped the Cougars early in this campaign.
Christopher led the Bears 27-25 at halftime, then came out of the break with a strong third period, extending the lead to 47-37, and maintained that advantage thereafter. Brown led the Cougars with 23 points and five assists and Robinson delivered a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Caragio added seven points and Guenther tallied six.
“I knew [Menlo-Atherton] is a great team,” Sax said. “We had to execute and run offense with hard cuts to mitigate their pressure defense. Defensively, we were on point and connected. Jaxen was huge on the boards. Uriah scored with [3-pointers] and down low and on drives. Uriah also did a phenomenal job finding the open man.”
The stellar performance against Menlo-Atherton bodes well for the Cougars in league play and in the playoffs.
In the 2022-23,Christopher finished with a 22-6 overall record and went 10-0 in BVAL Mt. Hamilton East Division play.
The Cougars defeated Leigh, 50-43, and Hillsdale, 51-44, in the CCS Division II playoffs before falling in the championship match to West Catholic Athletic League power St. Francis, 47-21.
Christopher advanced to the CIF NorCal D-III playoffs and lost its opener to Lincoln, 72-66.
The fierce league schedule continued this week with a 66-61 loss to Santa Teresa on Jan. 24.
Subsequently, Christopher looks to take down Leigh again and reverse results against Branham and Oak Grove, while taking victories over the other league opponents.
With the close loss to powerful Branham, along with the win over Menlo-Atherton, the Cougars may be arriving ahead of schedule.
It is still January.
Hopes are high for a strong finish to the regular season and for more playoff success.
“We’ll be a tough ‘out’ in February,” Brown said. “I have nothing but faith. We’re going to see us doing well in February.”