Boys’ basketball falls to Bellarmine in CCS semifinals


Viking junior Alaap Nair throws the ball at a Bellarmine College Preparatory player to regain possession Thursday night at the Central Coast Section semifinals. The Palo Alto High School Vikings lost to the Bellarmine College Preparatory Bells, 40-56, in a game summarized by Bell dominance. According to Bell head coach Alex Sarrett, the team always has to work towards the next game so that they can improve themselves constantly. “We’re never a finished product,” Sarrett said. “Our fundamentals are always going to be our fundamentals, our non-negotiables will remain the same, and we will emphasize those and double down on them.” (Photo: Annelise Balentine)

After a game dominated by fast-paced offensive plays, the Palo Alto High School boys’ basketball team (9-3) fell to the Bellarmine College Preparatory Bells (5-9), 40-56, in Thursday’s Central Coast Section semi-final match. 

This game followed the CCS quarterfinals on Tuesday, where the Vikings beat the Wilcox Chargers (9-3) by a slim margin, 56-55. In the quarterfinals, the Vikings’ hard work paid off as a heroic three-pointer by Viking senior guard Jackson Martin followed by a layup and free throw by Viking sophomore guard Jorell Clark led to the Vikings retaking the lead, 56-55, with three seconds left in the match. Viking head coach Jeff LaMere said the Vikings’ perseverance throughout the entire 32 minutes on Tuesday showed the strong mentality of the team, even when it seemed that all was lost.

According to Martin, the quarterfinal match was significant because elimination would have meant the definitive end of the season for the seniors.

“We [the seniors] knew it could be our last game and we just thought about leaving it all on the court,” Martin said. “We knew that if we lost, we were going home, and none of us wanted to go home.”

Coming into the semifinals match for CCS, Bell head coach Alex Sarrett wanted to use the team’s offensive power to force the Vikings to adapt to their playstyle. 

“We wanted to make them adjust to our style of play,” Sarrett said. “We decided today we were going to switch everything and be disruptive on the ball screens to not let them settle into a rhythm.”

In the early stages of the first quarter, Bellarmine College Preparatory demonstrated their strong offensive and defensive plays. They prevented the Vikings from scoring layups while dominating the game with their passing. After a series of dominant offensive plays by the Bells, they surged ahead with more than double the points of the Vikings, ending the quarter 7-15. 

Viking senior guard Jackson Martin goes for a layup while Bell junior small forward Nick Paniccia attempts to block the shot. (Photo: Annelise Balentine)

The Bells continued to utilize their passing plays effectively to get around the Viking defense. In the second quarter, the Bells maintained their dominance on the court by making 10 shots and limited the Vikings to only five. Although Viking senior Noah Chen managed to score a buzzer-beater from half court, it was not enough to close the gap. By the end of the first half, the Bells had scored twice as many points as the Vikings with a score of 17-34.

According to Bell sophomore small forward Nick Paniccia, the Bells’ huge lead after the first half was beneficial in strengthening their mentality to emerge from the match as CCS finalists.

“I was confident we were gonna finish the game,” Paniccia said. “I was a little hyped up, but our coach gave us a little pep talk at halftime that made us go a little bit harder and really kept the energy moving.”

Sarrett said that despite having a significant lead over the Vikings at halftime, they still wanted to improve their overall performance.

“We made halftime adjustments to work on ourselves,” Sarrett said. “We wanted to enhance our performance and crisp up our execution.”

According to Viking senior captain Mert Yanar, the Vikings had to switch up their defensive strategies and adapt to the Bells’ offensive style.

“Coach talked to us, and we had a mindset switch,” Yanar said. “We were getting beaten up and we weren’t playing good

defense, so we turned it up on the defensive end and buckets started getting easier on the offensive end.”

Viking senior Mert Yanar defends a Charger as he rushes into the Vikings’ half during Tuesday’s Central Coast Section quarterfinals. (Photo: Daniel Garepis-Holland)

The third quarter saw both teams fighting even harder to gain control of the court, and the Vikings started making a comeback, contrary to the clear dominance held by the Bells in the first half. Although both the Vikings and the Bells had moments of dominance, the Vikings gradually fell behind in scoring. Ultimately, the Bells maintained their lead, outscoring the Vikings and ending the quarter with a lead, 29-50.

The fourth quarter saw a change of pace for the Vikings. Following a series of back-and-forth plays, the Vikings were able to score five more points in the quarter than the Bells for the first time in the match. Despite the late surge from the Vikings, they were unable to make up the huge deficit that accumulated in the previous three quarters of the game. The game ended 40-56 in favor of Bellarmine, spelling the Vikings’ elimination in the CCS bracket.

According to Yanar, the Bells posed a challenge that was too great for the Vikings to overcome, but they still put forth their best effort.

“After the first half, we came in knowing that we didn’t play like we wanted to,” Yanar said. “We knew that even if we weren’t gonna win the game, we were gonna come in and leave it all on the floor in the second half, and that’s what we did.”

Paniccia said that the Bells’ declining performance throughout the game was a weakness for them, especially in the fourth quarter.

“Teams might be worse than us, or they might be better than us, but we have to stay focused,” Paniccia said. “We got a little relaxed [in the fourth quarter] and that’s not okay, it shouldn’t happen.”

Following the match, the CCS Committee selected the Carlmont Scots (9-3) as the third-place team to advance to the next level of playoffs over the Vikings.

Game Statistics

Points Per Player:


Mert Yanar Sr: 14  

Gavin Haase So: 10       

Jorell Clark So: 5   

Jackson Martin Sr: 4  

Noah Chen Sr: 3 

Sean Hogan Sr: 2      

Alaap Nair Jr: 2


Julian Gospich Jr: 15 

Brayden Harris So: 14 

Nick Corbett: 8 

Will Corbett Fr: 6      

Tariq Weiser Sr: 6 

Noah Schneider Sr: 3         

Noah Custodio Jr: 2        

Nick Paniccia Jr: 2 

Additional reporting for this story provided by Kasmira Lada.