Members of the Calistoga basketball teams took their turns climbing the ladder up to claim their prize.
Upon reaching the peak, they examined what was left of the mangled net dangling off the rims in front of them, selected their piece and trimmed it, tokens to remind them of Tuesday’s historic senior night at Calistoga High.
Both varsity teams claimed convincing victories over Roseland Collegiate Prep in their North Central League IV finales, the girls 61-23 and the boys 65-36. While the girls had already clinched their league title last week, the first in program history, the boys had to win on senior night to capture their first sole league title since 1992.
Neither of Tuesday’s games were in doubt for long. The girls (21-2, 8-0 NCL IV) never trailed and had built a 40-13 led at halftime and extended it to as much as 40 in the second half. Similarly, the boys (14-9, 7-1 NCL IV) leapt out to a 14-1 start in the first quarter and held a 43-17 advantage at halftime before their lead ballooned to as much as 30 in the second half. By the fourth quarter of each game, the starters cheered on the subs from the bench.
In addition to adding pennants to their gym rafters this summer, both Calistoga teams have also now qualified for the Division 6 North Coast Section playoffs as league champions earn automatic berths
Not a bad way to send off this year’s seniors.
“There are no words to explain it,” said senior Jesus Rojas-Mendoza, the freshly cut net hanging around his neck. “Like all last week we were working our ass off, doing everything coach was telling us in practice. He told us we were a special team and we just proved it. We brought (a league title) back to Calistoga. Over 25 years we haven’t won it, so this is really special.”
The boys, who will be making their return to the NCS playoffs for the second consecutive year, honored their five seniors shortly before their game tipped off. Aside from Rojas-Mendoza, this year’s outgoing class was comprised of Anthony Cortez, Christopher Olivares, Robert Romero and Joey Russo.
The girls, who will be one of the top seeds in the Division 6 NCS playoffs next week and will likely host several games if everything goes according to plan in the first rounds, have enjoyed historic results the past two seasons thanks in large part to this year’s graduating class.
Recognized during a brief ceremony at halftime of their game were Angeli Aquino, Hayseel Barrera, Laila Elkeshen, Litzy Infante, Vanesa Quiepo, Lizbeth Escobedo, Dayana Cardona and Elin Carlsson
Each class has had a unique impact on their respective programs. The girls put together the greatest multi-year run in school history while the boys helped usher in a new and improved culture that head coaches Cesar Cruz and Ray Particelli believe will permeate for years to come.
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Look no further than Tuesday’s games for evidence of this.
The girls deployed their devastating trapping defense from the jump, taking an insurmountable lead before the overmatched Grizzlies knew what hit them. The Wildcats played their game to their strengths, just as they’ve been doing all season en route to a program-best 21 wins.
Leading the way was Quiepo with a game-high 19 points. Escobedo was close behind with 14, while Hayseel Barrera added 9, Elkeshen 6, Infante 5 and Aquino 4. Cardona and Skylar Freutel rounded out the scoring with 2 points apiece.
As for the boys, vengeance was on their mind. They had lost to RCP earlier in league play, but had rebounded following what they considered a massively disappointing result to play their best basketball of the season.
They left little doubt on Tuesday who the superior team really was.
“That was where we turned the season around as far as defense,” Particelli said of their 53-48 loss to the Grizzlies on Jan. 23. “It was a disgusting effort on our part. We addressed it, talked about it and said we’ve got a lot to play for. ... We’ve gotten after it ever since and we’ve played five solid games since.”
On Tuesday, Rojas-Mendoza led the offensive onslaught, pouring in 17 of his game-high 20 in the first half. He was red-hot from deep, hitting six three-pointers on the night plus got the crowd fired up with a buzzer-beating layup at the end of the second quarter that put the Wildcats up 26 at halftime.
“Last night I was just thinking, ‘Man, this could be my last home game, let me go ball out real quick,’” he said, adding that Tuesday was also the first time his parents were able to be attendance to watch him play a high school game. “Last game (RCP) beat us by five but I know we’re a better team than them. So tonight, I was just like, I’m gonna ball out, and I did and we got the win.”
Sophomore Christian Caldera added a 17-point effort in support.
Both Wildcats team will wrap up the regular season on Thursday as they travel to face St. Vincent. After that contest, they’ll learn on Sunday who their first round opponents for the playoffs will be. The first round is scheduled to start next Wednesday.
Needless to say, neither team can wait to get the postseason underway.
“We’re focused, we’re ready and we’re pumped,” Infante said.
Contact Gus via phone at 707-304-9372 or email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustGusMorris.