By Keith Peters
It wasn't all that unusual when things got a little heated during Sacred Heart Prep's blowout victory over Carmel in a Central Coast Section Division IV boys' basketball semifinal on Tuesday night.
The top-seeded Gators had erased a first-half deficit and were finishing up a 35-point third quarter on the way to a 61-point second half and 78-39 triumph over the No. 4 Padres, who weren't too happy with how things were turning out.
With about 25 seconds left in the third period and following three steals by the Gators, things got rough. A Carmel player, evidently frustrated by the turn of events, dished out a hard foul to SHP senior Will McConnell.
A brief tussle ensued, during which Sacred Heart senior Reed McConnell, Will's twin, left the bench to help his brother. Reed was hit with a technical foul and then ejected.
Following the game, SHP coach Tony Martinelli wasn't optimistic about McConnell's immediate availability.
"At this point," said SHP coach Tony Martinelli, "it looks like we will be playing without Reed."
According to CCS bylaws, any player ejected from any CCS playoff contest because of flagrant misconduct or unsportsmanlike behavior shall e excluded from participating in the remainder of the playoff contests in that sport during that season and his/her team shall be subject to further sanctioning, as deemed appropriate by the CCS Commissioner.
Thus, McConnell miss Friday's CCS Division IV championship game against No. 2 Santa Cruz at Santa Clara University (4:45 p.m.).
"As a CCS member school, CCS players and teams are subject to CCS bylaws throughout the entire season, whether they are playing CCS member schools or schools from outside the CCS," said Steve Filios, an assistant CCS commissioner and former head boys' basketball coach at St. Francis High. "The membership of the CCS has adopted this rule. Because violation of the rule carries severe sanctions, every principal (or his or her designee) has been required in all sports to review these rules prior to the start of the CCS playoffs. This rule is also reviewed with the team captains and coaches prior to each playoff game."
"It is a CCS decision and one that we have to respect," said Martinelli. "The only tough thing was, it was a pretty dirty play and it was committed on his brother. I believe that Reed's emotions got the best of him and he went out on the court. To his credit, he didn't get involved in any altercation and went back to the bench."
Fortunately for the Gators, however, McConnell will be allowed to play in next week's NorCal playoffs. Sacred Heart filed an appeal and McConnell was cleared on Thursday around 3 p.m.
With the 6-foot-5 McConnell sidelined for Friday's game, the Gators lose their No. 1 three-point shooter (51 made), No. 2 scorer (14.6 ppg), No. 2 free-throw shooter (72-for-90) and No. 2 assist man (62).
While Sacred Heart Prep will miss those statistical advantages and McConnell's veteran experience, the strength of this season's team has been its depth.
"Our depth has been the key to our success all year," Martinelli said. "So, guys like Cal Baloff, Pat McNamara and Zach Watterson will have to keep playing well."
The 6-4 McNamara, 6-3 Baloff and 6-3 Watterson all come off the bench but have played a great deal in the Gators' fast-paced offense. They have combined for 12.7 ppg, 33 three-pointers and 72 assists.
The remaining starters are the 6-6 Will McConnell (15.5 ppg, 6.7 rebounds per game), 6-5 Tomas O'Donnell (5.6 ppg), 6-4 Cole McConnell (8.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), and Colin Terndrup (8.4 ppg, 2.9 assists). Six of the seven are seniors, with Cole McConnell the only junior.
The Gators (24-2), riding a 20-game winning streak, will have a considerable height advantage over the No. 2 Cardinals (21-6), who eliminated No. 3 Palma in Tuesday's other semifinal at Menlo School, 76-52. Michael Adams is the tallest Santa Cruz player at 6-4.
"Santa Cruz isn't as big, but they are extremely deep," said Martinelli. "They shoot the 3 well and press and trap. We both feel more comfortable with the game in the 60s and 70s. I really think the winning team will be the one that presses well and plays solid half-court defense."