Defense has been Menlo-Atherton’s staple during Mike Molieri’s nine years as boys basketball head coach.
But on Tuesday the Bears saw an 11-point halftime lead disappear as host Piedmont Hills rallied for a 59-57 victory in a Central Coast Section Division I quarterfinal.
The Piedmont Hills comeback was in large part a one-man show as Alijah Washington, who finished with 33 points, scored 23 of his team’s 34 second-half points.
“He took over,’’ Molieri said. “We didn’t have an answer. We weren’t very good on defense, didn’t do a good job of defending their screen action.’’
M-A (5-7) trailed 9-2 early, but came back to lead 14-13 at the end of the first quarter. The Bears dominated the second quarter, held the Pirates to 4 of 20 shooting and led 36-25 at halftime.
Spencer Lin hit a couple of long 3-pointers late in the second quarter and had 13 of his team-high 17 points in the first half. The Bears were 8 of 17 shooting in the second quarter. An offensive flow seemed to come easily at that point as they opened the 11-point halftime lead.
Maybe too easily. M-A struggled with its shot in the second half -- 2 of 12 in the third quarter and 3 of 14 in the fourth quarter.
Ricky Martin, who pulled down a team-high eight rebounds, scored the first basket of the third quarter to increase M-A’s lead to 13 before the Piedmont Hills comeback got going in earnest. Washington scored 13 points on his own the remainder of the quarter and M-A had its lead cut to 46-45.
Washington gave Piedmont Hills (16-5) its first lead since the first quarter, 53-52, on a basket with 3:50 left.
A’marion McCoy, who finished with 12 points, passed to Connor Cadigan for a basket in the low post that put M-A back ahead. But that was the team’s last lead. Washington scored again to put the Pirates on top and they increased the lead to 57-54 before Martin’s foul shot cut it to two.
M-A had to intentionally foul three times to put Piedmont Hills into the penalty. Finally with 6.5 seconds left Mykiah Wyche went to the line for a one and one and converted both shots for the final margin.
The pandemic-delayed season was a different experience for everyone in prep sports. M-A, which went a combined 47-10 over the last two full seasons, had to win its last two games against Sequoia just to get to .500 in league and qualify for the CCS playoffs.
“At the end of the day I’d like to compliment my four seniors,’’ Molieri said. “I’m just happy they had some semblance of a season, that we were able to play in CCS. In that sense it was a successful season for our players. It was such a different year. From day one I decided I was going to play everybody. We will learn from it. Next year the Bears will be back.’’