CALISTOGA — It is tough to beat any team in high school basketball when you only have five healthy players, and even tougher when you square up against the top team in the league without your top scorer.
That’s what the Calistoga boys faced when they fell 73-47 to North Central League IV-leading Sonoma Academy of Santa Rosa at home Friday evening.
The Wildcats (5-11, 1-2 NCL IV) were without senior leader Cesar Ayala, the sharpshooting wing having missed the last few weeks with an ankle injury.
The Coyotes (12-4, 3-0 NCL IV) went on a 6-0 run to start the game and quickly bounced their advantage to a 14-2 lead early in the first quarter behind 12 points from Eli Bayer. The sophomore ended up with a game-high 21 points while adding six rebounds.
Sonoma Academy led 24-10 after the first quarter and cruised to the victory.
“We just wanted to make sure that they had to keep playing during the game,” Calistoga co-coach Ray Particelli said. “We got to work our zone offense against a team that runs nothing but zone. We worked on our press break against a team that makes their living pressing. The big question for us and our culture was, can we keep our focus for 32 minutes? We were gassed by the end of the game, but we never broke our focus.”
There were positives in the blowout for the shorter Wildcats. They matched the Coyotes’ 33 rebounds for the game. Calistoga also outscored the visitors 19-10 in the fourth quarter, a feat many previous squads wouldn’t have been able to muster.
“In the past we would have folded,” Calistoga co-coach Cesar Cruz said. “I love that we scored 19 points in the fourth quarter.”
Freshman point guard Christian Caldera led Calistoga with 17 points while grabbing four rebounds.
Jasiel Flores has been expanding his role as the lone senior leader with Ayala sidelined. The multi-sport athlete finished with 14 points while pulling down 11 rebounds for a double-double for the game.
Another positive for the Wildcats has been the improved play of post player Christopher Olivares. The 6-foot-5 center finished with six points and seven rebounds.
“Christopher will never wow you,” Particelli quipped, “but his presence has been big for us and he gets better every game.”
The Wildcats host Technology High of Rohnert Park on Tuesday.
Sonoma Academy Girls 44, Calistoga 35
The girls fared better than the boys. Unfortunately for the hosts, Sonoma Academy’s Lizbeth Castillo couldn’t be stopped. The junior guard scored the Coyotes’ first 17 points, including all of them during a 14-6 first quarter, and finished with 18.
“Our girls play hard and we have a fundamental understanding of how the game should be played,” Particelli said. “Our strong suit is that we play great team basketball without out-of-this-world talent. The kids do a great job of putting themselves into a place to success. Sometimes we don’t have the talent to finish, but we put ourselves in a chance to win.”
The Wildcats started to climb back in the second quarter, with Vanesa Quiepo and Hayseel Barrera carrying the offense. Calistoga closed to within five points in the middle of the second quarter, but Maria Mountanos hit two quick 3-pointers to push the Coyotes’ lead back to double digits.
“For having guards out of position and them pressing us for 32 minutes, I think our girls did an amazing job,” Particelli said.
The Wildcats outrebounded the larger Sonoma Academy squad for the game, 30-18.Tully Leonard continued to have flashes of potential down in the post, as the sophomore ended the game with six points and a game-high nine rebounds.
“Any other year we probably lose that game by 50, but our girls aren’t afraid to put in the hard work to get better every single week,” Particelli said.
Ball handling was the major issue for the Wildcats, who turned the ball over 25 times. The Coyotes used a press against the Wildcats to great success for most of the game. Quiepo finished with a team-high 13 points while grabbing four rebounds, and Litzy Infante and Barrera each ended up with eight points.
The Wildcats were without point guard Lizbeth Escobedo.
Calistoga put all of its effort into stopping Castillo and gained ground in the second half, when they outscored the Coyotes 21-17.
“We always stress to the girls that we want (the opponent) to try and beat us with their second or third option. I think we did a pretty decent job of that after the first quarter,” Particelli said.
The Wildcats will welcome a 1-15 Technology squad from Rohnert Park on Tuesday.