Friday’s 56-46 home loss to Palo Alto concluded a 2-10 league season for the Los Altos High boys basketball team, but – thanks to a 9-3 record outside the SCVAL De Anza Division – the Eagles are bound for the playoffs.
The Central Coast Section tournament is a fresh start for Los Altos, given a week to prepare for Friday’s first-round game against an opponent to be determined at today’s seeding meeting.
“We’ll get some time to heal up, have some good practices and get ready to go,” coach Trevor Naas said after the Paly game. “I hope we can play well Friday night and keep this season going for as long as we can.”
If the Eagles win their opener, they will play again Saturday. That will likely require them to ramp up their scoring – something the team struggled to do in the De Anza. Los Altos averaged a league-low 40.9 points per game.
The Eagles mustered a mere six points in the first quarter against Paly (8-3 league, 14-9 overall). Los Altos’ last points of the period came on a low-post hook shot from Connor Cook that put his team up one with 3:08 remaining. The Vikings responded with a 6-0 run to close the quarter and opened the second with back-to-back buckets by Marvin Zhou to go ahead 15-6.
The Eagles answered with a run of their own – scoring eight straight points on layins by Nemin Htet, Brock Susko, Chris Shell and Eric Jones – to cut their deficit to one with 4:15 left.
Paly countered that with a 10-2 spurt featuring a pair of 3s from Conner Lusk. But Los Altos fought back in the final minute, as Shell followed a corner 3 with a baseline jumper from just outside the paint that reduced the Vikings’ lead to 25-21 at halftime.
“He’s been one consistent shooting threat for us this season, so it’s really about trying to get him shots and quality shots,” Naas said of senior Shell, who finished with a game-high 19 points that included four 3s. “I thought tonight the team and he did a good job of finding those opportunities to get good shots. I didn’t feel like they were forced or bad shots – they were good shots – and when he gets a good look, we feel good about it going in.”
Shell scored the first basket of the third on a deep 3, making it a one-point game, and he just beat the shot clock on a trey with a minute left in the period to put the Eagles up 34-33. The lead didn’t last long; Paly made a pair of fastbreak layups off Los Altos turnovers to take a three-point advantage into the fourth.
“I’m really proud of our effort tonight, but we had a few critical breakdowns at the end of quarters that cost us,” Naas said. “Twice we had possession and didn’t get the last shot of the quarter and instead ended up giving up points on the other end.”
The Vikings extended their lead to seven in the first minute of the fourth, but the Eagles clawed back again. By the 5:40 mark, Los Altos had trimmed its deficit to 43-40, thanks to corner 3s by Shell and Htet.
The Eagles didn’t get any closer. Paly pulled away with a 7-1 run capped by Jackson Chryst’s 3 with 1:46 left. Susko scored Los Altos’ last two baskets – including a trey from the right baseline– to finish with 11 points.
“I’m asking a lot of him as a sophomore,” Naas said of Susko. “He plays really hard, he’s a smart player on both ends of the floor and he means a lot to what we do.”
Susko might play an even more prominent role next season with four key players set to graduate this spring. Htet, Lewis, Cook and Hunter Lunsford were all honored in a Senior Night ceremony prior to Friday’s game.