To a man, the Santa Barbara High boys basketball team was proud of one thing on Monday night — their tenacious attitude on defense.
While it led to foul trouble for big men Bryce Warrecker and Cole Eckler, the Dons made their presence felt all over the court in their season opener, pounding Buena 59-46 at JR Richards Gymnasium.
“I was really happy with how we played defense,” said Stephen Davis, the Dons’ all-league guard. “We stepped into lanes tonight, willing to take the charge.”
First-year head coach Corey Adam echoed his star senior.
“Our defense set the tone,” Adam said. “We took control by not giving them any space.”
While the Dons offense sputtered out of the gate, that defense kept Buena from getting any offensive rhythm established, with the Bulldogs not scoring until nearly four-and-a-half minutes into the game.
“And we’re only going to get better,” said Warrecker, an all-league center that posted 13 points on Monday night despite missing the bulk of the second half due to picking up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter.
The defense gave the Dons a chance to find an offensive identity, eventually punishing Buena with drives to the basket by Davis and Jasper Johnson.
Johnson led Santa Barbara with 16 points, while Davis had 13 points while playing all but the last minute of the fourth quarter.
“It’s nice to inherit some all-league talent like Jasper, Stephen and Bryce,” Adam said. “It wasn’t the plan to leave Stephen in all game, but you always like to have him or Bryce on the floor. He can easily play a full game, so it was pushing him too much.”
Erik Strandberg (8 points) and Dylan Borgeson (7 points) helped pick up the offensive slack left by Warrecker.
“It’s good to see that we have guys that can step in, I thought Strandberg and Dylan both had outstanding games,” Warrecker said.
The biggest cheer of the night came midway through the second quarter, as the Dons subbed in Vance Baldwin, who missed all of last season receiving treatment for an illness.
While Baldwin didn’t register a point, he did have four rebounds and lifted the spirits of his teammates who have been rooting him on.
“It was emotional for all of us,” Davis said. “I’ve been playing basketball with Vance since the second grade. To see him out there, that was amazing.”
“A year ago at this time, he wasn’t able to play, and here he is tonight, giving us key minutes,” Warrecker said. “To see how he struggled, only to fight his way here, we are so happy to have him back.”
And with quite a few new contributing faces, Warrecker knows that there is plenty of work to come if they hope to make another deep CIF run.
“We can get so much better,” Warrecker said. “And we will, we go back to work tomorrow.”