No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Sobrato High boys basketball team will have done something that no previous Bulldogs squad had accomplished in the history of the program—win a game in the Blossom Valley League’s A division, the Mount Hamilton. Sobrato made it happen in a 67-56 home win over Independence High on Jan. 15. The Bulldogs went 0-14 in the Mount Hamilton two years ago and promptly got demoted to the Santa Teresa Division last season, where they went 9-4 to earn another promotion back up to the Mount Hamilton this year.
“It’s big for these guys, especially the seniors who were sophomores two years ago when we went 0-14,” said Bulldogs coach Sean Tate, whose team improved to 8-5 overall and 1-2 in league play. “We got the first win in, and hopefully there is more to come.”
Sobrato played its best quarter of the season to open up the game against Independence, and led 22-7 after the first quarter. Drew Hooks was on fire, starting the game on his own personal 9-0 run. He scored points in transition, off drives to the basket and smooth-looking shots from 3-point range. Hooks scored 13 of his 15 points in the opening quarter, outscoring Independence all by himself. Travis Turnipseed finished with a team-high 19 points, 16 of which came on 3-pointers.
“Travis and Drew filled it up tonight,” Tate said. “Drew is more of a slasher and Travis more of our shooter, but tonight Drew knocked some (long-range shots) down and that was big. Drew got off to a good start as far as offense goes. Sometimes he gets a little wild with the ball, but his game is attacking the hole and he did a great job of that tonight. I had to sit him down a couple of times because he kind of went and did his own thing as opposed to sticking to the game plan on defense. He’s a great athlete and there are times I get on him, but he’s mentally tough, gets back out there and corrects it.”
Sophomore Marc DiFrancesco, who has impressed with his work ethic and play all season, literally laid it all on the line when he dove head first to retrieve a ball just past the half court line. Sobrato had possession, but made an errant pass that had two points for Independence written all over it. However, the 6-foot-3 DiFrancesco sprinted after the ball and beat his opponent—who had a step on DiFrancesco by the way—and gained possession before Tate alertly called timeout as DiFrancesco (nine points) was on the floor with the ball.
At the time, the Bulldogs were leading 18-7 with 1 minute, 5 seconds left in the opening quarter. After the timeout, Hooks scored on a runner to pad the lead back up to 13 points. Had DiFrancesco not made that hustle play, the 76ers would’ve scored to cut their deficit in half. Instead, Sobrato entered the second quarter with a commanding lead.
“Marc diving on that play, you need those,” Tate said. “Any time there is a loose ball he sells out, and he’s been a constant all season. He hit a big 3, got some big rebounds and has been a difference maker for us all season.”
Not only was the victory historic, the Bulldogs needed it in the worst way. They opened up league play with consecutive losses, though both games were competitive. From the get-go, the Sobrato players were dialed in and on point.
“The guys came out mentally focused, they shared the basketball and made some big shots,” Tate said. “Hands down, this (first quarter) was our best quarter of the season. They were attacking on offense, and our defense fed into our offense and that’s how we want to play. We got a lot of easy buckets tonight, and that’s been rare. Easy buckets make you look great, and that’s what we want to continue to do.”
The Bulldogs took their largest lead of the game, 46-27, in the opening minute of the third quarter. However, Independence closed the quarter on a 21-10 run, and for a moment it seemed as if the 76ers were going to come all the way back. Sobrato had different ideas. Independence never got closer than eight points the rest of the way, as the Bulldogs—despite undergoing a brutal stretch in the third quarter in which they turned the ball over on six of seven possessions—managed to hit some shots at crucial moments.
“The second half we were just sloppy with the ball,” Tate said. “We did a lot of free throw (line) to free throw (line) throwing the ball around and just not valuing the basketball, which you can’t do in this league. It was funny; when we actually got the ball across (half court against the Independence full-court pressure) and ran a play, I liked our shot selection.”
Iggy Bettinelli (11 points) was his usual solid self, grabbing rebounds, playing solid defense and making nifty plays, none better then when he faked a no-look pass before keeping the ball himself and scoring on a layup as time was winding down in the first quarter. Bettinelli was 5-of-7 from the floor, highlighting the team’s shooting efficiency.
The Bulldogs finished 28-of-47 (59.8 percent) from the floor, including a blistering first half in which they converted 18-of-27 shots. Sobrato received another strong performance from senior forward Justin Aboud, who handled the ball well against Independence’s pressure defense. Aboud will rarely fill up a stat sheet, but his contributions are significant.
“Justin did a good job of staying calm because this has been the most pressure we’ve seen (so far this season),” Tate said. “Independence always brings it, and you know that. That stint in the third quarter, that is typical Independence in that they want you to throw it around. When the smoke cleared, we settled down, started to get some buckets and kept that lead. The only way to play an Independence team is to stay calm because they’re relentless. We kept saying the whole game they’re going to come back—meaning there was no time to relax—and we didn’t. Hats off to these guys for staying mentally focused.”
One of the key junctures of the game came when the Bulldogs were in the midst of their turnover spree. The 76ers were on an 11-0 run when DiFrancesco drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to break the team’s scoring drought. Turnipseed also made a crucial basket on a layup that came after a teammate’s airball from 3-point range.
That made it 63-50 with 4:30 remaining, and Sobrato needed that bucket as the 76ers closed the game strong. Michael Barone, a senior guard who was a starter last season, played a key role as a reserve with his ball handling and by grabbing an offensive rebound with 25 seconds to ice the game.
“Michael played a great game,” Tate said. “He handled the ball well and sparked us coming off the bench tonight. It was good to see him have that type of game, coming off the bench and staying mentally tough. He works hard in practice—I’m a practice guy, knowing practice to games always translates—and he came ready to play, and that’s all you can ask for. His number was called, and he was up for the challenge.”
Tate vividly remembers the days when he coached against Sobrato while manning the sidelines at Santa Teresa High.
“We used to kill them,” he said. “And going 0-14 two years ago, this was big. These guys played good, solid basketball, and it was fun to watch. I’ll enjoy it more when I watch the film probably. I’m happy for these guys to be a part of history at their school. Win or lose, we want to compete and get ourselves mentally ready for CCS. These guys all pull for each other, and if we weren’t together as a team, we wouldn’t be here. If these guys were not tight knit and not ready to play, we wouldn’t be where we’re at. Hopefully, we can continue to be mentally tough to make this a learning process all the way up to CCS.”