Semi-sweet ending

Photo By: photos by Shirley Pefley/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Photos By Shirley Pefley/Special To The Town Crier

Joey Malgesini, driving, led Los Altos with 19 points last week.

Los Altos High’s historic boys basketball season had to end at some point, but this wasn’t where – and how – the Eagles expected it to happen.

Three days after convincingly knocking off the top seed in the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs to reach the semifinals for the first time in school history, Los Altos fell to Willow Glen 59-57 in a game the Eagles would surely like to play over.

“We could have done more,” forward Joey Malgesini said after scoring a team-high 19 points in the Feb. 26 semifinal at Santa Clara High. “Right now we feel like we should be in the finals. Without that, it’s hard to enjoy a season like this.”

No. 8 Los Altos (19-8) rallied late, but a rash of squandered possessions and defensive lapses earlier in the contest prevented the Eagles from overtaking the fourth-seeded Rams (22-6).

“Our team defense wasn’t where it needed to be, and we didn’t take care of the ball,” coach Bob McFarlane said. “I’m not sure why – that hasn’t happened in so long – but it seemed that we were just too complacent on defense until the fourth quarter.”

The SCVAL El Camino Division champion Eagles, oozing confidence after whacking Westmoor 75-66 in the quarterfinals, got off to a promising start against Willow Glen. Malgesini nailed the game’s opening shot – a 3-pointer from near the top of the key – and hit another trey a minute later. Forward Steven Garverick soon split a pair of free throws to give Los Altos a 7-4 edge with 6:14 left in the first quarter.

But the Eagles would score just six more points in the period, hindered by four turnovers, to lead 13-12.

Turnovers haunted Los Altos throughout the game; the Rams scored 21 points off the Eagles’ 17 miscues. Los Altos was whistled several times for traveling and attempted more than a few ill-advised drives to the basket that resulted in steals for Willow Glen or low-percentage shots.

“Everybody felt that they had to do something to get us started, and that’s not the right mentality,” Malgesini said. “It started working out a little bit later when we were hitting shots.”

The Eagles hit their first two shots of the second quarter – on 3s by forward Daniel Rosenbaum (13 points off the bench) and Garverick (16) – to counter Ram guard Taylor Meeker’s trey and drive.

The 19-17 lead proved to be Los Altos’ last. Willow Glen went on a 9-2 run before the Eagles closed the half with six straight points – highlighted by Malgesini’s midrange turnaround jumper – to tie the game at 26.

Helped by seven Los Altos turnovers, the Rams led by as many eight points in the third. The Eagles cut the deficit to 43-38 by quarter’s end on Garverick’s layin off a steal.

Willow Glen built its lead back to eight on Meeker’s NBA-distance trey with 5:47 to play. He and fellow guard RJ McCune each drained four 3s on their way to scoring 18 and 19 points, respectively.

“Defense makes offense, and our defense just wasn’t what we had practiced,” Malgesini said. “We spent our practice preparing to guard their 3s and close out on their shooters, but I guess their plays still kind of surprised us.”

The Eagles clawed back in the final 66 seconds. Point guard Nate Vieira and Rosenbaum buried back-to-back 3s, narrowing the Rams’ advantage to 59-55 with 45 seconds to go. Los Altos intentionally fouled to stop the clock, and Willow Glen’s Mikey Riley stepped to the free-throw line and missed the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity.

That left the Eagles with 40 seconds, most of which they used on their next possession. Los Altos took five shots, finally converting on Malgesini’s putback with two seconds remaining.

Trailing by two, Los Altos desperately fouled – and the Rams again failed to convert a free throw. The Eagles grabbed the rebound and called timeout with a half-second on the clock. That gave Los Altos just enough time to heave a long inbound pass into the frontcourt, deflected by Willow Glen at the buzzer.

“It was a difficult loss, but Willow Glen played a great game and deserved to move on,” said McFarlane, who in his first year as coach guided the Eagles to their first undefeated league season in 40 years. “We have a solid team, and even though we didn’t play very well, we were right there and almost pulled it off anyway. I was inspired by the team’s willingness to fight until the bitter end and never give up.”

Moments after the game, Malgesini was already looking forward to next season. Although Los Altos graduates seven players – including Vieira – Malgesini and Garverick are juniors and Rosenbaum is a sophomore.

“We’re going to work hard over the summer and we’re going to go even further next year,” Malgesini said.

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