Boys’ basketball defeats Santa Clara in heart-stopping game

Securing its second win of the season, the Palo Alto High School varsity boys’ basketball team (2-4, 2-3) edged out the Santa Clara Bruins (2-1), 38-35, in a neck-to-neck game Saturday.

After a four-game losing streak, the Vikings won for the first time on Friday against Homestead High School, giving them momentum going into the game, according to head coach Jeff LaMere.

“It was good to get a win, and we played well,” LaMere said. “And it’s hard. You get on a losing streak, you get frustrated, and it’s tough to dig out, and then you complicate that with COVID … but certainly yesterday’s win was a big morale booster.”

According to junior guard Sebastian Chancellor, the Vikings were hoping to topple the previously undefeated Bruins from first place.

“Coming in, we knew it was going to be a challenge, but we really came in thinking that we were going to win,” Chancellor said. “We came in wanting to bring intensity from the beginning, and I feel like we did that today.”

The Vikings started strong, immediately putting unrelenting pressure on Santa Clara’s defense throughout the first quarter. Several three-point shots from senior forward Aidan Rausch and junior guard Lucas Sung helped build up Paly’s lead, giving them a six-point advantage at the end of the quarter. 

Senior forward Martin Segura said that while the Vikings’ strategy in this game was new, it proved to be the best way to counter Santa Clara’s strengths

“Every game you have to run something a little different to adapt to the team, so I think we’re getting much better at playing for the game plan,” Segura said. “We had to adjust things, and I think we did a really good job executing it.” 

In the second quarter, the Vikings completely shut down the Bruins, limiting them to two baskets through a stellar defensive showing. On offense, Segura scored two three-point shots, and Chancellor and junior guard Addison Lee also put three-pointers in the net, bringing the score to 27-13 at the half.

According to LaMere, the Vikings’ exceptional defense early on brought them success in the game.

“We really wanted to limit their big guy who’s really good,” LaMere said. “He’s been averaging 20-something points a game, and we wanted to limit him, and I thought we did a good job of doing that.”

Momentum began to shift away from the Vikings at the start of the second half as they struggled to sink any shots beyond three-pointers from Segura and Lee. On the other hand, the Bruins picked up steam and began to break through Paly’s defense, chipping away at the Vikings’ lead, closing the gap to nine points. 

After Santa Clara scored six baskets to one Paly three-pointer, the Vikings fought to hang on to a one-point lead in an intense last minute of the game. By drawing fouls, Chancellor and senior point guard Andrew Li were able to capitalize on free-throw opportunities and maintain possession, shutting down the Bruins’ final efforts, closing out the game 38-35.

Chancellor said the Vikings were determined not to let Santa Clara come from behind and overtake the lead in the final moments of the game.

“It started to slip away from us a little bit, and we had two games this year where we were leading, and we kind of blew the lead,” Chancellor said. “So it was kind of like deja vu for us coming into the last full stretch, but that’s when it turns from physical talent to a mental game.”  

Throughout the game, the Vikings scored 10 three-point shots and only three two-point shots. According to LaMere, Santa Clara’s strong defense prevented Paly from reliably driving to the basket for layups.

“I think we started to settle because those [three-pointers] were the open shots,” LaMere said. “Santa Clara’s very unconventional, they’re very quick, they play hard … they’re a really good team, and fortunately for us, we scored just enough points and made just enough plays at the end of the game to get a victory.” 

Lee said the close game demonstrates how it’s important for the Vikings to keep up the intensity all game.

“We are looking at consistently finishing off the game,” Lee said. “We had a lot of energy going into the game, we just needed to finish it off and keep that energy throughout.”

The Vikings will play next against Milpitas High School at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday away at Milpitas.

Photos taken by Malia Wanderer and Amy Yu.