The St. Vincent High School defense, stingy the entire game, became downright Scrooge-like in the final minutes Tuesday night, providing the Mustang boys with a 46-41 victory over Technology's trying Titans in the first round of the North Central League II playoffs.
St. Vincent advances to the semifinals, facing Rinon Valley Christian tonight at 7 p.m. That game is part of a full evening of NCL II basketball in the Lawrence Jones Middle School gym in Rohnert Park. At 4 p.m., the Roseland Prep girls play Sonoma Academy. At 5:30 p.m., the league-champion St. Vincent girls take on Upper Lake. Following the St. Vincent boys game at 8:30 p.m. the Roseland Prep boys will play Tomales.
In a game that made up in intensity what it lacked in offensive firepower, the Mustangs, behind the dominating presence of Zack Pierson, overcame an inspired effort by Tech's bug-quick guard Michael Zumaeta to extend its winning streak and stretch of strong play to seven games.
For most of the game, the contest was between the Mustangs' crisp passing and deliberate style against the free-styling efforts of Zumaeta, Himansu Singh and their Titan supporters.
It finally came down to St. Vincent defensive domination in the final four minutes.
The Mustangs were down, 39-35, when Max Cowell drilled a 3-poiner with just over four minutes to play. Chris Faulknor followed with a pair of free throws and a put-back of a Mustang miss to give St. Vincent a 42-39 lead that grew with a big basket by Aaron Sihota and a pair of free throws by Cowell as the clock wound down.
But the real story was the Mustang defense in those final minutes, especially the clamp-down job Cowell and Sihota did on Zumaeta and Singh in the final crucial minutes. Technology had only one basket, a follow of a missed shot by Tallon Domico, to show for its final four minutes of effort.
The back-and-forth tempo of the game was determined early, with the Mustangs working the ball inside for easy buckets by Sihota and Pierson, while Zumaeta weaved his way to the hoop and Singh popped from the outside for the Titans. At the end of the first round, Technology held a slim, 12-11, lead.
St. Vincent diversified its attack in the second period with Chris Faulknor and Sihota adding beyond-the-arc hits to complement Pierson's drives as the Mustangs slipped into a 26-22 halftime advantage.
St. Vincent had trouble finding the bottom of the basket in the third period and fell behind, 37-35.
But, defense prevailed, and the Mustangs frustrated the Titans with an increasingly smothering effort, forcing eight turnovers in the final period.
Pierson finished with a double-double for the Mustangs, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Faulknor added 10 points and also grabbed five rebounds and dished off four assists in a strong all-around effort. Sihota hit nine points, Cowell eight and Grant DeVoe seven for the Mustangs.
Singh led all scorers for Technology with 15, with Zumaeta scoring 11 and Evan Pepper seven.
St. Vincent is now 13-13 on the season.