The Tech High Titans crumbled, 71-64, beneath the Calistoga Wildcats’ aggressive defense late in the second half at a home game last Thurs., Feb. 7 held at Tech Middle School.
And it started off so well for the Titans, too. They’ve had a rough season at 0-12 in league thanks to losing five players last year to graduation. Tech High isn’t a large school. It only has 348 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s not a big pool to draw from—losing veterans hurts.
It hurts a lot.
The loss leaves the team in a state of rebuilding. That’s what this year was all about for the Titans, and their coach, Stan Cramer, claimed he couldn’t be happier with the results.
“We were on fire the first half. I wish we could have been in that form through half the season, but there’s a lot to learn,” Cramer said. “They need the experience. It’s still a young team. They have to learn all the aspects of the game—zone, man-to-man. It takes a while to gel.”
The Titans dominated the first quarter. They seized an early lead when Logan Eakle caught a rebound and pushed into the Wildcats’ side of the court. But Eakle couldn’t quite get past the three-point line, so he passed the ball, sending it ricocheting from one Titan to another so fast it blurred. It eventually came to rest in the hands of the Titans’ Cayden Thompson. While the ball flew around, Thompson had snuck to the far corner of court. The Wildcats had left him unguarded. When Thompson got the ball he didn’t hesitate. He took the shot. It arced and fell through the net for an easy three points, pulling the Titans into the lead.
The Titans followed up the basket with a rush from Sam Morrow.
Morrow is a powerful force on the court. He’s loud and aggressive and he’s just as likely to shove through those that try to stop him as he is to move around them. Morrow’s playstyle resembles a blitzkrieg—fast and strong.
The sudden aggression caught the Wildcats by surprise when Morrow gained possession off a pass from Porter Brookston deep in their own territory. Morrow charged the Wildcat basket. Two defenders stepped up to stop him, but Morrow muscled his way through and went for the layup. It was good.
Morrow followed the basket up with a three-point shot and then another layup, both within a couple seconds of each other.
But aggression in basketball can only take a person so far. Eventually it becomes a liability, as Morrow eventually discovered when he fouled out in the third quarter.
“I’m a very aggressive, prideful person. I take sports very seriously,” Morrow said. “I kind of stand out. When a ref looks at a play they’re like, ‘Maybe that’s a foul or maybe it wasn’t. I’m going to call it anyways.”
The loss of Morrow crippled the Titans. Even worse, the Wildcats restructured their game plan at half time.
A typical strategy in basketball is for a team to pull all of their players back while on defense and cover zones—areas of importance that lets a team respond fluidly to any attack. Zone defense is reliable and safe.
Press defense, on the other hand, is the opposite. It goes for a more man-on-man strategy that contests the ball every moment it’s in play. While the strategy leaves the team vulnerable, it also sets the tempo of the game and a change in tempo can ruin an unprepared team’s offensive strategy.
Which was exactly what happened in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats started it off with a three- point basket by Jesus Mendoza; they followed it with a layup from Joey Russo and then one basket from Christopher Olivares. Within a few minutes of play the Wildcats seized the lead. While the Titans tried to take it back, they couldn’t manage it before the buzzer.
“One of the things that we say is that it’s not even about the turnovers. It’s about dictating tempo. Whether our press was really good or not really good—we still dictated tempo,” Wildcats’ assistant coach, Ray Particelli, said. “All those shots they made the first half; all of a sudden they weren’t making them anymore.”
The Titans’ loss against the Wildcats marked the end of their season. Next season should be different. They’re only losing two seniors to graduation, Ian Azmoudeh and Matthew O’Brien, and a significant portion of the team expressed a fervent desire to return again next year.