Just when the Calistoga High boys basketball team had the game seemingly won, its leading scorer and point guard, Cesar Ayala, fouled out with four minutes to go in the final quarter – and that was that.
The visiting Credo Gryphons from Rohnert Park smelled blood in the water and scored the last 13 points of the game for a 48-41 victory and the championship of the silver bracket in the Gene Duffy Holiday Classic tournament at Calistoga.
Wildcats coach Cesar Cruz was philosophical after the game, but you could tell he wasn’t the happiest man in the gym.
“When we lose our composure, it’s very frustrating for me,” Cruz admitted. “We played great for three quarters, moved the ball great. But in the fourth quarter when we lost our leader, we didn’t play smart basketball after that.”
Ayala had been a dynamo up until that time, leading the Wildcats (2-5) to a 15-9 first quarter lead with 10 points.
The Wildcats were in cruise control with Jesus Mendoza scoring the first four points of the second quarter for Calistoga, and Pablo Escalante later scored five points in a row capped off by a long 3-pointer to extend the lead to 24-16 with 2:30 to go. Credo, which played basketball a lot like a football team, was in foul trouble and the Wildcats cashed in with free throws to go to the locker room with 30-20 halftime margin.
Both teams came out cold in the third quarter, but Ayala finally swished a three. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, that would be his final score of the game. The Gryphons crept a little closer during a low-scoring third quarter and trailed by only eight, 36-28, heading to the fourth quarter.
Mendoza hit a three early in the fourth to give Calistoga 39-29 lead and it looked like the Wildcats would bring it home. But when Ayala fouled out with four to go, all bets were off.
Credo (1-3) turned it up a notch and completely dominated the Wildcats the rest of the way.
“We lost our composure; they completely frustrated us the rest of the way,” Cruz said, shaking his head. “They knew if they could get in our heads, they could come back. And they did.
“My kids did not do a very good job of controlling their emotions. These kids need to learn to play the game. But I’m proud of them, and we will take away what we accomplished in the first three quarters. Our bench is not deep and when we lose our leader, it’s tough.”
In fact, Calistoga suited up only eight boys for the game.
Looking to the future, Cruz noted they go to Kelseyville next week and begin another tournament by playing the host school.
“They’re a very, very good team,” Cruz said. “We have a long ways to go in terms of our basketball IQ, and we need to put it together for four quarters. I hope our kids understand what happened today.”
Ayala led Calistoga with 15 points and was named to the all-tournament team. Mendoza added 13 and Escalante 11. Marco Lopez rounded out the scoring with two points.