The Prowl

The Student News Site of Weston Ranch High School

The Prowl

The Prowl

Cougars Advance in State Boys Basketball Playoffs

Weston Ranch boys basketball advanced to the CIF State Boys Basketball Championship second round by defeating Menlo Atherton 69-65 last night at Weston Ranch.

Not many teams get another chance at postseason play. Still, after the 69-52 loss at Jesuit in the CIF D1 Sections, the Cougars got another shot and made the most of the opportunity by knocking off the 10th-seeded Peninsula-South Champions.

“Last night’s game is what the State Championships are all about,” said head coach Nicholas Podesta. “It was a wonderful environment, something you expect to see in the postseason, and a closely contested game from start to finish.”

Weston Ranch got off to a good start in the game’s opening minutes. The Cougars built a 5-point lead halfway through the first quarter and appeared to be on their way to controlling the game, grabbing a 15-10 first-quarter lead and then pushing its lead to 13 (31-18) with 1:10 left to play in the second quarter. The Bears connected late in the quarter on a 3-pointer and added another basket, but the Cougars remained in front comfortably 32-23 at halftime.

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“We had a pretty strong start to the game,” Podesta said. “Our execution on the offensive and defensive ends was outstanding, and we did a good job finishing possessions and capitalized on the stops we did get.”

Elijah and Elliot Mobley sparked the offense and combined for 23 of Weston Ranch’s 32 points in the first half. Defensively, Xavion Bell, Khristian Holmes, and Richard Banks helped the Cougars control the Bears with their pressure and held Menlo to 10 points in the first quarter and 13 in the second. It was the usual scenario for the Cougars, and it seemed like the second half would play out as the first, and Weston Ranch would cruise to another decisive victory.

However, as Weston Ranch discovered, Menlo didn’t make the 79-mile drive to get pushed around by the Cougars.

Weston Ranch had Menlo down 40-28 with 4:56 remaining in the third quarter, but the Cougars saw that lead dwindle as the Bears began chipping away at the lead. In the third’s final minutes, Menlo cut Weston Ranch’s lead to seven and trailed 48-41 as the quarter ended. Menlo outscored the Cougars 18-16 and had a little momentum.

As the fourth quarter began, Weston Ranch returned to a nine-point lead at 54-43. However, Menlo took advantage of a Cougar scoring drought by going on a 10-2 run halfway through the final quarter and cut the Weston Ranch lead to 55-53. The Bears hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 57-56, and another Bears’ three tied the game at 59 with 2:32 left to play. Down by as many as 13 points, Menlo had clawed its way back into the game and had Weston Ranch on the ropes.

“The second half Menlo-Atherton really demonstrated why they’re here in the state playoffs,” Podesta said. “They had a talented roster and shot the ball exceptionally well. They hit a ton of shots down the stretch to close the margin.”

The game’s final few minutes played like a heavyweight fight. Both teams were landing big punches, and neither team would go down. The Cougars took the lead back at 62-59 but surrendered another Bears’ 3-pointer, and the game was tied again. Weston Ranch countered with a basket and led 64-62. With 59 seconds left, Menlo tied the game again at 64. Then, with 30 seconds left to play, Weston Ranch made a free throw to break the tie, and they led 65-64. The Cougars followed up with two more free throws and led by three with 19 seconds left. Menlo cut the lead to 67-65 with a free throw with nine seconds left. Trailing by two and needing to foul, Menlo sent Banks to the free throw line, where he knocked down both attempts and closed the game for the Cougars. It was a terrific fourth quarter of basketball for both teams.

“Our guys did a great job countering and hit free throws down the stretch when it mattered the most,” Podesta said. “We have a battle-tested group that has overcome much this season, and I couldn’t be more proud of their growth.”

Elijah Mobley led the Cougars with 27 points; Elliot Mobley added 16; Khristian Holmes and Richard Banks each had 12.

So, Weston Ranch moves on to Round 2, where they will take on the #2 seeded Branson Bulls of Ross, CA, on March 3. The Bulls finished the year 28-3 and won the CIF North Coast Section Division 3 Championship.

“The next round will be challenging as we take on an outstanding Branson team playing great basketball right now,” Podesta said. “They have one of the best backcourts in the State and are very well-coached. They’re playing their best basketball right now and coming off their section championship run, so our team will need to step up in what should be a tough environment on the road. But I’m excited about the challenge.”

Thursday’s game vs. Branson at Branson is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

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Cougars Advance in State Boys Basketball Playoffs