The Prowl

The Student News Site of Weston Ranch High School

The Prowl

The Prowl

BOYS BASKETBALL: Cougars Bury #1 Bulldogs

The Weston Ranch boys basketball team took its second step toward a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title with a convincing 64-58 victory on Feb. 17 over top-seeded Folsom High School. The Cougars’ win was called “shocking” by the local reporters in Sacramento; however, it was not surprising in Weston Ranch’s and its fans’ minds.

Both schools had a history of competition with each other. The Cougars and Bulldogs met twice in 2020 before last Friday’s second-round game. One game was a lopsided, non-conference 77-54 win for Folsom. The second time they met was in the CIF D1 tournament. The Bulldogs were the third seed, and the Cougars, seeded fourteenth, won a play-in game to get another shot at the mighty Bulldogs. However, the Cougars won this time when it counted and knocked out the #3 seed 60-53. So, one could say Friday’s loss was stupefying for Folsom, but for Weston Ranch, the only surprise was trailing Folsom 8-7 after the first quarter.

To those who just looked at the bracket, it was easy to assume a school like Folsom, with an enrollment of 2589, should have easily handled tiny Weston Ranch. After all, with an enrollment of 1462, the Cougars are legitimately D3, maybe D2. However, Weston Ranch played in a D1 SJAA, won the league, and had to play up with the big schools. And as the Bulldogs, with their championship pedigree, found out, it’s better to check your opponent’s resume and references before moving your name to the right on the bracket.

Please make no mistake; Weston Ranch had a big challenge in facing Folsom. The Bulldogs were 26-2 overall and 10-0 in the Sierra Foothill League, with only two teams over .500 in winning percentage and one .500 team. However, they had big wins against good schools like Grant, Inderkum, Ponderosa, Capital Christian, and Jesuit. Folsom was talented and battle-tested and earned the top seed.

Story continues below advertisement

Two things worked in Weston Ranch’s favor on Friday night: One, they have played in big games since November, so there was no reason to be nervous playing another big game, and two, as the evening moved along, the Cougars proved their early losses helped them grow as a team, and this growth was a catalyst for the win.

The Cougars trailed 8-7 at the end of the first quarter, and it was the last time the Bulldogs would look back to see Weston Ranch chasing them. The Cougars built a 24-18 halftime lead, extended their lead to 41-33 at the end of the 3rd quarter, pushed the lead to 11 points with 2:50 left in the 4th, and finished the 4th with the six-point win. It was a brilliant defensive effort by the Cougars to hold the Bulldogs to 18 halftime points and one of the keys to the victory.

“I thought the game would be tight at the start,” coach Nicholas Podesta said. “Folsom’s coaches had us thoroughly scouted, and they made lots of adjustments. I thought they would try to slow the game, and they had us down 6-1. But after we went on a little run and got the game down to one possession (trailing 8-7), I felt pretty good where we were heading into the second quarter.”

Weston Ranch took the lead in the 2nd quarter, and momentum shifted in the Cougars’ favor. Getting an early lead was in the game plan, and although it took a little over ten minutes to get in front, Podesta noticed his team was winning more than just the scoreboard battle as the teams left the court for the halftime break.

“Early in the second quarter, we started to win the tempo battle,” Podesta said. “Once we got the game speed to go our way, I felt we were in the driver’s seat from then on. We felt terrific at halftime, holding them to 18 first-half points. Keeping them to the 18 meant we were getting stops rather than outscoring them. It isn’t easy to maintain a pace where both teams score each time they have the ball. But, we knew that getting stops validated our approach and game plan, giving our kids the confidence they needed to buy in with what we were trying to do.”

The Cougars increased the six-point halftime lead to eight points as the third quarter ended. Weston Ranch led 41-33 and had the #1 seed on the ropes. However, the Cougars knew that any lead a team could get against Folsom was not safe, and the Cougars played exceptionally well in the third to maintain and increase the lead.

“Maintaining the lead really came down to shot selection,” Podesta said. “We had to make sure every possession included a great shot because we had to limit their (Folsom) opportunities in transition, so we needed to finish off our possessions on a positive note. We also did a great job limiting their second-chance options. We made sure we had all five guys ready to rebound. We did an outstanding job in both areas in the third quarter.”

In the fourth quarter, Weston Ranch kept Folsom from chipping away at its lead, and with 2:50 left in the game, the Cougars had the Bulldogs down 11 points. But unlike the previous three quarters, where the pace was slow, and Weston Ranch made defensive stops, the Cougars were in a position where they had to outscore their opponents and survive. The Cougars put up 23 points, and the Bulldogs collected 25. It was a furious pace, and Weston Ranch continued to do everything right and held off Folsom’s late charge.

“The pace got quicker because Folsom had to take quicker shots,” Podesta said. “They got a little more aggressive with their press, but that played into our hands because we’re used to a fast tempo. We were able to finish off our transitions. Folsom was landing some big punches in the 4th, but our guys were able to counter back and close out the game.”

It was a total team effort and win for the Cougars. Elijah Mobley’s 25 points led the Cougars offensively, but also, it was the way they assisted on offense (21), their free throw shooting (15-19), defensive rebounding (20), steals (11) and commitment to each other that earned them the win.

“Basketball really is a team game, especially considering the style we play and the tempo we want,” said Podesta. “All five guys have to be playing together. Richard Banks made big shots for us down the stretch. Elliot Mobley had an outstanding game for us and has been so valuable since January. Khristian Holmes is our leader and did a great job facilitating the offense and breaking the Folsom press. Xavion Bell does so much for us defensively, and he’s one of the top defenders in the Section. He doesn’t have numbers that show up on the stat sheet, but he was so productive on the defensive side of the ball on Friday.”

Weston Ranch will play Jesuit High School of Carmichael on Feb. 22 at Jesuit. The winner will advance to the CIF Division 1 Section Finals on Feb. 25. Win or lose, the Cougars have earned their spot in the semi-finals, and no one should be surprised.



More to Discover
Activate Search
BOYS BASKETBALL: Cougars Bury #1 Bulldogs