The Los Altos High boys basketball team was in no mood to share Friday night.
Refusing to split the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division title with Milpitas, the focused and energetic Eagles topped the Trojans 55-46 to conclude the regular season.
No one on the court played a bigger role in the outcome than guard Joey Malgesini, who scored a game-high 25 points for Los Altos (10-2 league, 18-7 overall).
“This was our last game at home and it was for the outright championship, so this was really everything for us – one of our biggest games yet,” the 6-foot-3 senior said. “If I’m not ready to play, then I shouldn’t even be here.”
Malgesini scored eight points in a fourth quarter that began with the Eagles holding a tenuous 40-37 lead. He helped turn away the Trojans – who closed the third quarter on an 8-0 run – by making three of his four shots in the fourth, including a pair of swishes from beyond the arc.
“He’s ‘Big Shot Joe’,” coach Bob McFarlane said in explaining Malgesini’s clutch shooting. “He’s been doing it for four years – when we need a bucket at a pivotal time, he makes it.”
Malgesini scored the first points of the fourth on a trey from near the top of the key and teammate Steven Garverick (16 points) scored the next three on a similar shot. That put Los Altos ahead 46-37 with 5:31 remaining.
The teams traded baskets over the next four-plus minutes. But after Malgesini drained a right-wing 3, Milpitas scored back-to-back buckets to slice the deficit to 51-46 with 1:16 to play.
Malgesini made sure the Trojans (8-4 league, 15-9 overall) wouldn’t get any closer. With the shot clock winding down, he nailed a pull-up jumper from the middle of the key with 42 ticks to go.
Forward Daniel Rosenbaum added two free throws on the Eagles’ next possession, pushing their advantage to nine with 23 seconds left. Los Altos made all 11 of its free throws in the game.
“I’m proud of our group of guys – they showed a lot of composure,” McFarlane said. “We had a wobbly period a couple weeks ago and everything was kind of up in the air, and they turned it around as a unit – as a team. I’m just really proud of the leadership and the way the guys responded to some of the things we tried to do to get us out of that funk.”
The Eagles accomplished what few teams have: winning the upper De Anza Division a year after placing first in the lower El Camino Division.
As a reward, Los Altos received the third seed in the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs and won’t have to play until Saturday’s quarterfinals at Santa Clara High. The Eagles will face No. 6 Santa Clara (18-6), No. 11 Westmoor (9-14) or unseeded Mt. Pleasant (11-14) at a time to be determined.
Los Altos last season advanced to the semifinals for the first time in school history, losing 59-57 to Willow Glen.
“We know what we have to do – we’ve been there before,” Malgesini said. “Hopefully, this time we’ll be more composed when it comes down to it and we can have some more success.”
Lancers seeded second
Defending CCS Division II champ St. Francis is the second seed in this year’s playoff bracket.
The Lancers (14-12) open play in Saturday’s quarterfinals at Santa Clara High (time to be determined) against No. 7 Los Gatos (13-11), No. 10 Westmont (8-16) or unseeded Overfelt (9-12).
Panthers land top seed
Thursday’s 51-45 loss at Harker cost Pinewood a chance to claim the West Bay Athletic League title outright – the Panthers must share the crown with Sacred Heart Prep – but they still go into the playoffs as the top seed in CCS Division V.
That means Pinewood (10-2 league, 20-4 overall) won’t play until Saturday’s quarterfinals at Alma Heights High in Pacifica. The Panthers are scheduled to face No. 8 Crystal Springs (6-17 overall) or No. 9 Summit Prep (11-9) at a time to be determined
“Now that league play is behind is, our focus is on CCS and how we can excel one practice and one game at a time and not look past any team,” Pinewood coach Mani Messy said.
2013 boys basketball: Los Altos High School vs. Milpitas High School - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier