Near the start of the second half against San Joaquin Memorial, junior guard Jesse Piceno attempted a rebound at the Panthers’ basket, leaping so high it looked more like a block.
Most of his arm cleared the rim. This from a guy a couple inches shy of 6 feet.
Memorial didn’t score on the play, and maybe that proved immaterial as all eyes in the packed Coach Dean Nicholson Gym bored in on Piceno. He was hard to miss as he got a little sideways with all that vertical elevation and returned to the court somewhat unceremoniously.
“I came down all wrong,” Piceno said after the game in which the star-studded Panthers came out on top 67-50. “I was trying to get a rebound.”
Piceno’s feat exhibited the level at which the Apaches performed Feb. 6. They brought it. Piceno said he could feel the electricity.
So could senior Sal Dhillon.
“I’m happy with our effort,” he said as the last of his team departed for the evening. “It’s good momentum to get to the playoffs. Let’s get to Selland Arena.”
No. 3 seed Sanger played No. 14 Hoover at the Nicholson Gym on Wednesday. A win means a home game Friday.
And of the Panthers, Dhillon added, “They’re a lot different from every other team. Guarding that 7-footer, I was just trying to keep him (contained).”
That big man was junior Braxton Meah, who 247sports.com said already has drawn recruiting interest from Arizona, University of California Berkeley, Fresno State, UCLA and UTEP. He blocked four shots that night, pulled down six rebounds, dished six assists and scored 11 points. Dhillon had eight points, seven rebounds, one steal and one assist.
High score for the game went to No. 2 nationally ranked junior Jalen Green, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard who 247sports.com says has received scholarship offers from 18 colleges with some of the best basketball programs. Green scored 25 points and blocked two shots. But he was limited to shooting 5 of 15 from three-point range.
And Green likely contributed to the packed gym. But he was just part of the draw.
“Cameron Stanley, playing his last regular game in the Dean Nicholson Gym, led Sanger in scoring with 24 points,” Ron Blackwood, Sanger master statistician, wrote in his game notes. “Luke Dillon chipped in 12. He also dished out five assists. Jon Dillon pulled down nine boards.”
Stanley surpassed Apache Tom Bruner, who played from 1986 to 1988 and scored 1,114 points, in the game against Edison on Feb. 1. Stanley moved into third place for the all-time scoring record with 1,141 points after the Memorial game. And against the Panthers last week, he scored eight of 11 from two-point range.
“We did good especially compared to the last game,” Stanley said. On Jan. 18, Memorial routed the Apaches in Fresno, 89-52. Stanley was limited to 14 points, and Green shot 34.
And Stanley was bullish on his teammates. “I’m more confident that we’ll be able to do it,” he said of continuing through the playoffs. He said he was as confident as he has been during his four years on the varsity squad.
“This is the group of guys who will be prepared,” he said.
Another development and definitely a crowd-pleaser was shown again by the Dillon brothers. Luke, a sophomore and second-year varsity player, again connected with his freshman little but taller brother Jonathan on an Alley Oop play of near-hoop pass and basket in the fourth quarter, showing the crowd Sanger had its own flashy skills.
“I knew it would be a high-intensity game,” Jonathan said. “We’re playing Jalen. I knew I had to play my hardest.”
And he said the level of competition made him play better.
And sophomore John Pena pulled off a rather remarkable display on his own. Somehow during the second half, he was able to foul a Panthers player while on the ground. “I’m still trying to figure that out,” he said.
Isaiah Rodriguez was among a slew of Sanger graduates and former players, including Jalen Cropper and Arron Mosby, to take in the game. “They did alright,” Rodriguez said. “They could’ve done better. Worked on their shots, a bit more defense.” Then he grinned. He had said much the same thing about his own version of the Apaches the year before.
“You guys fought hard and showed you can compete with any team,” Mike Paredes, assistant coach, told the team after the game. “We were down and you still fought.”
Paredes said the team made sure the crowd came out for them and not “some guy not from Sanger.” He said despite giving up some close games during the season, the team met his expectations.
Head coach Al Alvarado III also praised his athletes. “I’m proud of your effort,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction. We need to make sure we take care of what we need to. We need to make sure we’re focused and dialed in.
“Let’s win it this year.”
And maybe they will all shoot a little better and employ a bit more defense. They are Apaches.
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