Photo By: Photos by Shirley Pefley/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos High senior Nathan Vieira drives in traffic Friday.
In extending their winning streaks Friday night, the Los Altos High boys and girls basketball teams indicated that they won’t be an easy out in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League El Camino Division.
Succeeding with a fundamentals-over-flair approach, the visiting Eagles remained atop their respective divisions by beating Santa Clara squads boasting better overall records. The girls shook off a sluggish start to beat the Bruins 41-34 – Los Altos’ seventh straight win – and the boys followed with a hard-fought 55-50 victory, their fourth in a row.
While the outcomes surely caught the attention of teams around the league, the Eagles’ coaches – tempering their enthusiasm – acknowledged it’s too early in the season to talk titles.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” said Kevin Lee, whose girls improved to 3-0 in league and 10-5 overall. “We have goals that we’re working on as a team, and we have high expectations, but we’re still a growing basketball team.”
Boys coach Bob McFarlane, whose squad went to 3-0 in league and 8-6 overall, was cautiously optimistic as well.
“I feel good, but league’s a long road,” he said. “Going into the season, Santa Clara and Fremont were the league favorites, I would say, and we’re just hoping to keep up with those guys.”
In Friday’s game, Santa Clara had to play catch up. The Eagles raced out to a 12-0 lead that included 3-pointers from Joey Malgesini and Daniel Rosenbaum. But the Bruins (1-3, 12-4) bounced back by scoring the next 12 points to tie the game by the end of the first quarter.
After a back-and-forth second quarter that ended in a 24-all tie, Los Altos began to pull away in the third. The Eagles scored the first nine points, starting with Malgesini’s top-of-the-key 3. The junior scored five of his game-high 14 points in the period.
Santa Clara closed the gap to 39-36 before Los Altos guard Nathan Vieira dropped in a pair of free throws in the final minute to end the scoring in the third. The senior tallied eight of his 11 points in the quarter.
The Eagles opened the fourth with back-to-back buckets – on a Steven Garverick pull-up jumper and a Malgesini drive – to go ahead 45-36. With 3:35 remaining, Conrad Rogers’ baseline drive pushed the lead to 51-40.
The Bruins wouldn’t go away, however. They scored the next 10 points, with Cole Lockwood’s trey cutting the deficit to 51-50 with 23 seconds left.
After Malgesini made a pair of clutch free throws, Santa Clara sharpshooter Ronaq Virdi misfired on a 3-point attempt – thanks in part to defender Johnny Chen.
“The guy didn’t have a clean look because Johnny was right on him,” McFarlane said. “Johnny played phenomenal defense tonight, and I think he was the difference maker in this game.”
Defense proved just as crucial to the Los Altos girls, who limited Santa Clara to single-digit points in all but the fourth quarter of Friday’s contest.
“We focus on defense first,” said Lee, whose Eagles haven’t allowed an opponent more than 38 points during their winning streak. “I’ve told them for a long time that defense and rebounding wins basketball games.”
The Eagles held the Bruins to 26.7 percent shooting and forced them into 15 turnovers. Two days earlier, rival Mountain View shot just 25 percent against Los Altos, which prevailed 41-37.
A month earlier, the Spartans routed the Eagles by 23 points in the final of the Los Altos Holiday Classic.
“Several games after that tournament, they started to gel,” Lee said. “We’ve been working on some of our weaknesses and trying to turn those into strengths. We’re doing a better job taking care of the basketball, rebounding and boxing out – some of the basic fundamentals of basketball.”
Those fundamentals helped the Eagles overcome their scoring struggles early in Friday’s game. Los Altos trailed 8-3 after one quarter, missing all nine of its shots from the field.
The Eagles rallied in the second, outscoring Santa Clara 15-6 to lead by four at halftime. Freshman forward Meg Enthoven scored eight of her 14 points in the quarter, the last two by using a pump fake to drive the baseline.
“Meg’s got a lot of potential,” Lee said. “We have her focus on just rebounding the basketball, and we tell her, ‘Anything else we get from you is icing on the cake’ – and she always gives us a lot of icing.”
Los Altos’ lead ballooned to 30-17 in the third on a jumper by guard Ideen Seyed with 2:10 remaining. The senior scored 10 of her game-high 17 points in the period.
Santa Clara (3-1, 11-5) roared back, though, scoring 13 of the next 15 points. Samantha Rudd’s 3-point play cut the Eagles’ advantage to 32-30 with 5:18 to play.
Enthoven answered by banking in a midrange jumper, but the Bruins countered with a trey from Almira Ferrer to make it a one-point game with 3:11 to go.
That’s as close as Santa Clara would get. The Bruins missed their next seven shots, while Los Altos drained seven out of eight free throws to pull away. Freshman guard Katie Munro sank the first three foul shots, putting the Eagles up 37-33 with 1:02 left.