Up by just four points heading into the final quarter, the Santa Barbara High boys basketball team turned up the heat on visiting Culver City on Wednesday night.
And that caused things to boil over between the two squads — marring what was otherwise a competitive CIF Div. 2A game that the Dons won, 67-57.
With Santa Barbara up by 10 with just more than 30 seconds to go, the Dons tried to beat the Centaurs’ full-court press by launching a long pass from the baseline, aiming for senior Jackson Gonzales as he streaked down the floor.
Gonzales was pushed hard in the back by a Centaur player, sending Gonzales flying into the gym wall. The sparkplug would remain down on the ground for about 45 seconds, as the collision with the wall knocked the wind out of him.
Inexplicably no foul was called on the play, despite Gonzales flying nearly eight feet into the wall due to the contact.
Dons coach Corey Adam was irate, barking at the official. That also caught the attention of Culver City head coach RJ Walker, who began to yell at the Dons’ bench.
The benches had to be separated at midcourt before the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“I got information for you that goes with the hothead. When a kid approaches my guy, I’m not going to let anyone do that. I was very disappointed he didn’t call a foul, because someone can get hurt that way,” Adam said.
As the teams lined up to shake hands, there were words exchanged by the two coaching staffs, causing another fracas at midcourt, with parents and players from both sides involved. It took nearly 15 minutes to clear the gym and avoid more conflict.
While Gonzales was uninjured, he appreciated his coach for having his back.
“I mean, he’s ride or die with us and we’re ride or die for him,” Gonzales said. “He’s going to protect us, he’s going to fight for us and we’ll fight for him. We all knew at the end they were going to try to take some cheap shots. We knew we all wanted to be here for next game. They don’t have a next game, so they’re going to do whatever they can. But we’re going to be there, so we couldn’t do anything stupid.”
Senior star Bryce Warrecker concurred.
“Playing at home in front of this crowd and having so many people on our side in a moment like that is really big,” said Warrecker. “Cory’s never gonna back down. He’s defending his players, and if he thinks something is dirty, he’s gonna call the refs and let them know. Keeps us safe.”
Standing 6-foot-9, Warrecker had a seven-inch advantage on the entire Culver City squad, which the Dons took full advantage of, as the big man scored 35 points, with 30 coming in the paint.
Adam admitted that in between the third and fourth periods, he made no qualms about it: Get the ball to Warrecker.
“Yeah, there was a concerted effort to do that. We didn’t want to shoot unless Bryce had touched the ball,” Adam said.
Warrecker knew that he needed to control the game with his size.
“We knew they didn’t have much height, so if I needed to go ahead and dominate the inside the entire game,” Warrecker said. “It was a really good team effort though. The way that our team dominated the ball I think is the best we’ve had all season. They put the ball in spots where it was super easy for me to go and get it and put it up. It was just a really good team effort for the whole game knowing what their weaknesses were and what we had to do.”
Warrecker pointed to both Jasper Johnson (11 points) and Vance Baldwin (8 points) as key to the win, as they combined for five 3-pointers to keep the Centaur defense honest as they tried to collapse on him.
“Jasper came out off the bench and hit big threes in the first quarter. That really lifted our team. We really needed those. Got the crowd going a little bit,” Warrecker said. “That was a really good team, so for us to match that with Jasper and Vance was really good for us. If we only score twos, that can be really tough to win the game. Those threes were really big.”
Santa Barbara will be on the road Friday night at Hesperia, who defeated JW North on Wednesday night, 62-51.
The Dons reached the CIF semifinals last season, something that Gonzales says they have learned from.
“You have to be able to beat good teams on the road,” said Gonzales. “Your offense might not always be there on the road, but your defense will have to stay consistent on the road. You can always control your defensive effort.”