For the entire first half, Live Oak boys basketball coach Randy Bartholomew had a look of frustration as he watched his players make errant passes and take ill-advised shots. Part of the problem was Sobrato’s height and length, which makes daylight a little harder to come by when driving, shooting or passing.
However, the Acorns eventually settled down, showed its mettle and pulled away for a 57-50 win in a thrilling, back and forth contest between the crosstown rivals. It was a tale of two halves in Wednesday’s Blossom Valley League Santa Teresa East Division game, as the Bulldogs led 28-22 at halftime only to see the Acorns outscore them 35-22 in the final two quarters.
“It’s a little different dynamic for the players since they know each other so well,” Bartholomew said. “So it’s always going to be tough to get good shots up, and that’s where execution comes in. It’s going to be a fight every time and that’s great because it makes for an exciting game.”
J.T. Carvalho and Thomas Edwards led Live Oak with 18 points apiece, with Carvalho scoring 13 of his 18 in the second half. Carvalho rebounded from a tough first half to key the team’s offense in the third and fourth quarters.
“We talk about being patient in the offense and playing within the offense, especially against their zone,” Bartholomew said. “They were switching up defenses and did a great job of confusing our guys. But J.T. made a move on the free throw line (in the fourth quarter) where he caught, made a ball fake, did a dribble, made another ball fake, made a step through and then made a layup. I told him that’s the best move he’s done all year because he was patient. It wasn’t anything fancy, it wasn’t anything behind the back or a spin move or anything. It was just a solid move because he was patient and took what the defense was giving him.”
Alan Dinh, the lone senior starter for Sobrato, scored a game-high 21 points. A key reserve on last year’s team, Dinh worked hard to have a breakout season in his final year. Dinh figures prominently in the team’s motion offense, able to make plays with his passing and ability to break down defenders off the dribble.
“He worked hard to put himself in that spot,” Bulldogs coach Sean Tate said. “He’s fighting everyday against Jayden (Fowler) who is an underclassmen. But they push each other in a good way. It’s a good, healthy mix of hard competition which hopefully makes us better going forward. We’re looking way past this season. It’s tough to tell them that, but we’re going to be a beast of a team next year and these guys know it.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs will return four starters and all of their key reserves, which gives Tate plenty of legitimate reasons for optimism when the 2021-2022 season starts in November.
“Yeah, we’re pretty stacked,” Tate said. “Like I tell the guys, this (season) is a glorified summer league where we can gain experience and make improvements. As long as they keep their heads up, watch film and learn, we’ll be good.”
Sobrato dropped to 1-6 overall and 1-3 in league play, though three of its losses have come by five points or less. The Acorns, meanwhile, know this is the best team they’re going to have in the next couple of years if not several. That’s because Live Oak has a senior-dominated starting lineup and a roster filled with juniors and seniors. At 5-1 overall and 4-0 in division play, the Acorns are on the cusp of winning their first league championship in 23 years.
“We’ve got our eyes on a title,” Bartholomew said. “We wanted it last year, but fell a little short. We’ve got four more games to go and hopefully we can get that banner up there (in the gymnasium).”
Live Oak guards Steven Rosenberger and Thaddeus Dickens—the two shortest players on the court—have been instrumental to the team’s season and latest victory. They played solid defense and created off the dribble, leading to several layups for their teammates.
Rosenberger hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to ignite a 9-0 run in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter that proved to be the decisive sequence of the game.
“That was a momentum killer for them,” Bartholomew said. “Steven and Thaddeus play bigger than they are. They’re quick, tenacious and they get after it—that’s why I have them out there.”
Live Oak turned a six-point halftime deficit into a three-point lead entering the final quarter after outscoring Sobrato 16-7 in the third. Sobrato started the third well enough, as Dinh hit a runner and Marc DiFrancesco connected on a 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs their largest lead of the game, 33-22. However, Live Oak closed the quarter on a 16-2 run, highlighted by an Edwards’ trey that came with the teams battling for a loose ball and Rosenberger’s steal and layup that put the Acorns up for good.
Live Oak’s Gus Giba finished with 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting, far and away the best shooting night of any starter from either team. Edwards and Carvalho are lethal from beyond the arc and combined for five 3-pointers. Sobrato committed 15 of its 23 turnovers in the second half, a byproduct of their relative inexperience at the varsity level.
“It’s a young team,” Tate said. “This is a learning process for them because these are games we’re giving away more than teams are taking it. They (Live Oak) are a solid team, and when you give a good team like that extra possessions, they’re going to make you pay.”
The Bulldogs are tall and long, with 6-foot-6 sophomore post Ethan Marmie (seven points) and 6-5 junior Michael Chambers, who finished with 10 points. Andrew Zorio and DiFrancesco had five points each, and Fowler added two to round out Sobrato’s scoring. The Bulldogs enjoyed their best stretch of the game in the final minutes of the second quarter, when they turned a two-point deficit into a six-point halftime lead.
Trailing 19-17, Sobrato closed the first half on a 11-3 run, highlighted by strong drives to the basket and a 3-pointer from Chambers. But in the second half, Live Oak upped its defensive prowess and the Bulldogs got sloppy with the ball.
“We’ve been preaching defense because we’re not going to score 70-something points every night,” Bartholomew said. “When the offense isn’t there, the defense will carry us, and it did tonight. I have to commend the boys for that.”
Trent Cousens played some valuable minutes off the bench for Live Oak, providing tough defense and making his lone shot attempt. Tate said the Live Oak-Sobrato rivalry game always makes for a terrific dynamic.
“Both of these teams work hard and it’s always fun,” he said. “One more turnover here or there and the ballgame is going a different way. We’re a young team and we’ll be fine. We have 14 guys working hard pushing each other in practice, and I’m happy about that because we all like each other and work hard for each other.”