The Half Moon Bay High School boys basketball team finished just short of a state title on Saturday, losing 89-59 to a polished Valencia squad that was the top seed in Southern California.
For those wearing orange and black, it was a long drive home from the Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise. The Cougar faithful had plenty of time to wonder what might have been if their biggest threat hadn’t gone down early with an injury.
In fact, a game that ended in a rout was a back-and-forth affair until 6-8 Half Moon Bay junior Jaeden Hutchins heard a pop in his right foot and was forced to sit down for the remainder of what became a long game for the Coastsiders.
“He broke the same foot earlier in the year,” Cougar Coach John William Parsons said afterward, as he walked down the tunnel holding the runner-up trophy for finishing second in the CIF Division IV tournament.
“With Jaeden going down, it really put us behind the eight-ball,” he said. “I’m really proud of how we fought.”
The game began auspiciously for the huge crowd of Cougar supporters who made the trip. A Drew Dorwin reverse layup, a steal leading to a layup and a Gio Garduno-Martin 3 put the Cougars up 7-0 with 5:42 to go in the first.
But five Kai Davis free throws got the Vikings back in it. A Mikah Ballew 3-pointer gave the Vikings the 12-11 lead at the 3:48 mark in the first. From there the state’s Division IV heavyweights traded blows. Hutchins hit two 3-pointers. And Viking senior Ballew was unstoppable with nine first-quarter points.
Both teams shot the lights out of the Golden 1 Center early. Half Moon Bay shot better than 47 percent from the field and the Vikings were even better, shooting 53 percent and a perfect 5-for-5 from the line. The Vikings finished the game shooting 58 percent from the field.
Hutchins said he injured his foot in the first quarter but played through it until the start of the second quarter when it became unbearable. A tied game became a 14-point deficit in less than eight minutes without the big man. A game Cougar squad soldiered on as the jumbotron showed Hutchins stuffing his retaped right ankle into a shoe that suddenly appeared two sizes too small. Hutchins reappeared on the bench but did not reenter the game. He left the Golden 1 Center on crutches.
“Jaeden is a tough kid,” Parsons said. “He plays the whole game, every game, but I could see it on his face.”
Hutchins’ presence down low was as important as the 12 points he scored before the injury. The Vikings seemed to have a clear path to the bucket without Hutchins looming inside. The Vikings scored 46 points from the paint on the game. And the Vikings’ trapping defense suddenly seemed like a python, squeezing the Cougars into turning over the ball and slowing the Half Moon Bay attack.
The Cougars did not fold despite adversity. Dorwin ended the half in double figures, with 12 points. Garduno-Martin, who finished with 18, was 4-for-10, including two 3-pointers in the half.
In the second half, the Vikings continued to exploit the Cougars’ lack of size down low. Cougar freshman Caiden Guevara battled the 6-8 coach’s son, Bryce Bedgood, but quickly got into foul trouble, making life extremely difficult for the Cougars. Half Moon Bay turned to another freshman, Owen Perez, who played admirably, getting a block in his first defensive opportunity.
“Owen’s first varsity game was a state championship game,” Parsons noted with a chuckle afterward.
By the middle of the third quarter, however, the Vikings held a 20-point edge. By the end of the game, it was a 30-point margin.
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