Casa trails early, can’t quite dig out

In a hole early, Casa Grande’s basketball Gauchos almost dug themselves out, only to have the sides cave in Tuesday night.

Maria Carrillo’s Pumas were the diggers in Casa’s Coach Ed Iacopi Gymnasium, building up a lead that grew to has much as 16 points at halftime before hanging on for a 70-58 victory.

The defeat was the third straight for Casa Grande following consecutive 3-point losses to Kennedy of Fremont in a Foundation game and San Marin.

The Gauchos head north Thursday through Saturday in search of a first win for new coach Chris Gutendorf in the Tip-Off Classic Tournament in McKinleyville.

The coach has been disappointed with the scoreboard results, but not with the effort of the Gauchos who hustled themselves back into the game against the Pumas by crashing the backboards and contesting every Carrillo drive and pass in the late going.

“We’re right there,” Gutendorf said. “We just have to eliminate our mistakes. I think we are going to have an exciting year.”

The excitement for the Gauchos against the Pumas came almost entirely in the second half. In the first two periods, the visitors threatened to bury Casa under a barrage of 3-point connections.

Maria Carrillo connected four times from distance in the first quarter and six times in the first half.

Austin Ehrlicher led the Maria Carrillo charge with three hits from beyond the arc and 11 points in the half.

Meanwhile, the Gauchos hit everything but the bottom of the net. Given multiple opportunities in most possessions, Casa just couldn’t get the ball to go home.

That changed in the second half. Casa Grande began taking the ball to the hoop, challenging the Pumas to keep them out of the lane. Led by Dominic McHale, Sonny Gigliotti and sophomore Colin Patchet, Casa began to fight its way back into the game.

McHale, a veteran senior who plays bigger than his 6-3 height, began to assert himself on both ends of the court. He finished with nine points and a multitude of rebounds.

Gigliotti was the main instigator of the Gaucho third-quarter surge, scoring seven points in the period and finishing with a Casa leading 13 for the game.

Patchet bulled his 6-1, 220-pound body into the lane for both baskets and rebounds, finishing with nine points, a total matched not only by McHale but also by Taiju Grant and Cade Butler.

Despite the Casa Grande surge, Maria Carrillo managed to maintain a 10-point lead at the end of the third round and was up by 13 at 57-44, early in the fourth period.

Casa Grande got a boost when a Carrillo player, reacted to taunts from the small, but boisterous, Casa rooting section with an unacceptable hand gesture, and was hit with a technical foul.

Casa responded with a six-point run sparked by Grant’s buzzer-beating 3-point hit to cut the Puma advantage to single digits (57-50) for the first time since early in the game.

Three-point connections by Gigliotti and sophomore Tory Cain pulled Casa Grande to within four at 62-58 with just over 2 minutes left.

It was to be as close as they would come. A 3-point shot-clock-beater by Ehrlicher got the Pumas back on the right track, and the Gauchos couldn’t connect as the clock blinked away their hopes.

Ehrlicher, one of the Redwood Empire’s elite players scored the games only points of the final two minutes and finished with 18 for the game.

His teammate, Alex Dipman, was equally hurting to the Gauchos, leading all scorers with 19 points.

A major problem for Casa Grande was free-throw shooting. They had 15 hits from the line, but they were given 24 opportunities.

Casa Grande held on to win the junior varsity game, 48-43.

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