The Country Day fans were decked out in black-and-red jewelry and tiaras, their cheeks emblazoned with black-and-red stickers. They were ready to cheer over half an hour before the Cavs even stepped onto the court.
And they weren’t disappointed. SCDS students, parents, teachers, and faculty showed up at Galt High School to cheer on the Cavs as they soundly beat the Valley Christian Lions and their unique system (frequent five-player substitutions combined with full-court presses and 3-point shooting) on March 5.
Although they didn’t lead until the third quarter, the Cavs are now sectional champions, with an impressive 104-85 victory.
But it wasn’t easy at first.
By the end of the first quarter, the boys were down by 7.
Baxter the Owl walked up and down the sideline, rallying the crowd, as freshmen Annya and Katia Dahmani and Nina Dym, sophomore Avi Bhullar, junior Julia Owaidat and senior Clare Fina led the fans in cheers. And the fans echoed back without fail all night.
“I believe that we will win!”
“This is our game!”
According to head coach David Ancrum, assistant coach Gary Brisco said if the Cavs got the Lions’ lead down to about 5 points by halftime, they would have a chance at winning.
And Brisco was right.
Despite the first-quarter deficit and the constant Valley Christian substitutions, the boys did just that and more, cutting the Lions’ lead to 3 at the halftime buzzer.
After the half, the Lions weren’t making as many shots, and Ancrum said the Cavs’ defense improved.
Specifically, the boys stopped fouling. After eight fouls in the first half, the the Cavs committed only five in the second.
However, the Lions were in the penalty early on in the second half. The free throws for the Cavs allowed the non-shooting players to rest. These breaks in play helped the team stay energized for four quarters, freshman Cole Johnson said.
The Cavs took the lead for the first time with freshman Jayce McCain’s basket with 5:52 left in the third quarter.
The fans stomped their feet as the Cavs began to build up a double-digit lead.
Despite the increasing lead, the Lions started hitting more shots, especially 3-pointers.
“I started looking at the clock, to be honest,” Ancrum said.
“C’mon, baby, tick, tick, tick.”
But a Valley Christian 3-pointer usually resulted in a Country Day layup immediately afterwards, which helped a little bit, he said.
Additionally, the Cavs developed a rhythm, Johnson said. The Lions, who were switching in and out every few minutes, couldn’t do that.
To combat the Valley Christian system and keep up players’ energy, Ancrum made substitutions, leaving the team with fresh legs at the end of the game.
The constant substitutions didn’t affect the team too much, senior Skovran Cunningham said, when the Cavs played zone defense. As for the full court presses, “we run a lot of press breaks at practice,” he said. “(They’re) almost second nature to us.”
Freshman B.J. Askew, who led the team with 26 points and sank 12 of 16 free throws, was awarded Player of the Game.
McCain followed with 24 points, Johnson had 22, and freshman Rick Barros III had 21.
Johnson noted transition offense, Cunningham cited the team’s use of momentum, and Ancrum praised their spacing, defense and composure in the Cavs’ win.
At a time-out called with two minutes left in the game, Ancrum embraced Cunningham, who finished with 9 points.
According to Ancrum, Cunningham almost didn’t play this season.
“He played so hard last year, and now he’s just reaping the benefits,” Ancrum said.
“To end your high-school basketball career on top feels awesome,” Cunningham said.
“I’m just so happy for him,” Ancrum said. “He completes our puzzle.”
The Cavs next compete on Wednesday, March 11, in the first round of regional championships.