The Calistoga boys basketball dropped all three of its games in the Sutter Home Invitational in St. Helena over the weekend and finished eighth out of eight teams. The result was disappointing, but not all that surprising to co-coaches Ray Particelli and Cesar Cruz.
The Wildcats only had one practice with a full team heading into last weekend’s tournament.
“We saw the potential we thought we had but it just reinforced how much work we have to do to get there,” Particelli said before the team left for its game at Tomales on Monday. “The upside is we’re getting in better shape. If nothing else, three games back-to-back-to-back – in fact five, games last week – we got some cardio in for sure. And through their mistakes it’s a lot easier to illustrate what we have to work on.
“Position by position, we’re not bad,” Particelli added. “We actually match up pretty well with a lot of teams. … We have plenty of team speed, plenty of shooting, we will play better defense, we’re going to get up and down the court pretty well, so we have a lot of the pieces we need but now it’s just a matter of having the opportunity to mold it together.”
Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of Calistoga’s weekend in the Sutter.
Game 1: Roseland University Prep 64, Calistoga 36.
Roseland Prep (2-0) jumped out to a 17-6 lead and extended its lead to 45-17 by halftime. The Wildcats played even till the end but the hole was simply too large to climb out of.
“In the first half we struggled with our defensive assignments. We just gotta learn,” said Cruz. “Offensively, we got some good looks but it doesn’t help when we go 0-for-8 in the first half on free throws and we missed a lot of two-footers at the start of the game. We got down quick and just couldn’t recover.”
Senior Cesar Ayala and freshman Christian Caldera each scored 12 points while senior Jasiel Flores added 8. To their credit, the Wildcats never quit, even trailing by 20 for most of the second half. They scored the most point of any quarter in the fourth when they scored 11.
“We can look at it either way, but that’s a positive thing to me. The kids didn’t fold, especially at halftime. Coach Particelli and I are really proud of them. They played with poise and that’s where I’m impressed with them.”
Game two: Rincon Valley Chrisitan 60, Calistoga 54.
It’s hard to beat a team twice in a season – and even harder to defeat one you’ve defeated only once in the last decade, especially when it was just three days before.
Calistoga had its chances, but fell 60-54 to Rincon Valley Christian of Santa Rosa in the losers’ bracket of the Sutter Home Invitational Tournament on Friday afternoon.
“These are games you hate to see slip away,” Particelli said. “We are so unready and when given an opportunity to win, it hopefully drives home the point that if we did what we already know we would have this one. Hopefully that makes them want to execute better next time.”
Calistoga started the game flat-footed as the Eagles jumped out to a 10-1 lead, but the Wildcats clawed their way back into the contest with strong defense. The smaller Calistoga players pickpocketed several crossing passes and scored off the steals to pull within 21-15 by the end of the first quarter.
Caldera looked to have transitioned seamlessly from quarterbacking the football team. The freshman multi-sport star scored five of his team-high 18 points in the first quarter.
“During their opening 13-3 run, it was perfect,” Particelli said. “During that stretch, we never ran our offense. I waited until our team wanted to run the offense and then we scored all these points and then some. It should be in their minds that ‘Oh, that’s how this is supposed to work. We run our stuff and we are successful.’ That, in my mind, was a great way to start the game for us. It sent them that message.”
The Wildcats kept the momentum heading into the second quarter, tying the game four minutes before halftime before taking a 30-28 lead into the locker room.
But the Eagles started the second half as red-hot as they had the first, going on a 10-0 run to begin the third quarter. Just as they had in the opening frame, however, the Wildcats turned up their defense and regained the lead by the end of the quarter, 48-43.
Ayala was key for Calistoga in the third. The senior guard finished with 17 points, three rebounds and four steals.
Everything ground to a halt in the final quarter, however, as Wickenburg outscored the Wildcats himself in the frame. Poor shot selection was an issue for the young Calistoga squad, which sports only two seniors. Rincon Valley senior center Nick DiSanto clogged up the driving lanes and forced the Wildcats to take off-balance shots, and finished with 11 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks.
“I believe we ran our stuff about 40 percent of the game,” Particelli said. “If we run it 60 or 70 percent of the time, I think we can win.”
The Eagles took the lead for good with 3:44 remaining in the game, when an uncontested drive by Wickenburg put Rincon Valley up 52-51. Wickenburg sealed the game in the final minute with another uncontested drive up the lane for a lay-up to put the contest out of reach.
Game three: John Swett 66, Calistoga 53.
It was a rough weekend for the Calistoga boys basketball team as it finished 0-3 and in eighth place of the Sutter Home Invitational Tournament with a 66-53 loss to John Swett on Saturday afternoon at St. Helena High.
The Wildcats had their chances to pull out a victory during the weekend, but limited practice time and lack of rebounding doomed the young squad.
“The first thing we wanted to do this weekend was get a win instead of going 0-3, but I think we definitely as a whole learned a lot,” Ayala said. “For now we are just trying to move on to the game against Tomales on Monday and get back in the gym for practice on Tuesday. We just have to keep working at what we do.”
The Wildcats (1-3) fell 64-36 to Roseland University Prep in the first round on Thursday and Rincon Valley Christian exacted revenge on Friday with a 60-54 victory. The Eagles had lost to Calistoga for the first time in 12 years last Tuesday, 51-45.
“We haven’t practiced much yet, but at least we have seen game speed,” Particelli said. “We should settle down on Monday in a different environment and just do a little bit of the stuff we know and hope that carries us. Tuesday and Wednesday we will have a couple good practices – God knows there is a long list of stuff to work on. Then we take those couple practices and see if we can turn it into a success.”
The Wildcats struggled with rebounding all afternoon, as the larger and more physical Warriors repeatedly had multiple shot possessions. John Swett outrebounded Calistoga 60-29 for the game.
Wing player Tony Neely led the way for the Warriors with 19 points while pulling down 11 rebounds for a double-double. John Swett did struggle with turnovers, which allowed the Wildcats to stay in the game. Between the two squads, the ball was turned over 30 times.
Ayala was a one-man offense for most of the game for the Wildcats, the senior wing scoring their first 12 points. The athletic scorer finished with a game-high 30 points while grabbing 10 rebounds, dishing out two assists, nabbing three steals and swatting two blocks.
Ayala is one of only three seniors on this young Calistoga roster.
“I am trying to lead the way. We have a young freshman point guard and his game speaks for itself,” Ayala said of Caldera.
Caldera struggled with scoring in the first half but had a solid game overall, finishing with nine points, four rebounds and four assists.
“Trying to teach him everything I have learned over the years,” Ayala said. “We don’t have many players that have been playing the game for a long time, so I am just trying to teach them everything I know to just improve us as a whole.”
John Swett led 23-15 after the first quarter, after which each offense went cold. Only four total points were scored in the first four minutes and 30 seconds of the second quarter. The Warriors finally came out of their hibernation in the final two minutes before the break and went to the locker room up 37-23.
“I think we have some potential,” Particelli said. “We need to work to get to it and it comes down to that.”
The Wildcats came out with a new energy to start the second half, but once again rebounding was an issue for them. One of Calistoga’s more athletic big men, Robert Romero, went down with an injury early in the third quarter.
“We settled down and tried to do our stuff in the third, but ultimately their domination of the boards killed us,” Particelli said. “They got third and fourth shots on the first six or seven possessions of the second half.”
Calistoga attempted a comeback in the fourth quarter, managing to get within nine points. But Deshawn Black closed out the game for the Warriors, as the lengthy guard had eight points in the second half. For the game, Black had 14 points while pulling down 13 rebounds for a double-double.
“I think we just need to trust in ourselves and obviously we need to have confidence in our shots,” Ayala said. “I think we just need to trust in our teammates and just let their shots fly.”
Even with the disappointing showing, the Wildcats still have potential heading forward if they are able to keep it together. Jesus Mendoza picked up a productive eight points off the bench and Jasiel Flores was a pest to Warriors guards all afternoon.
“Cesar is a good basketball player, Jasiel is a good basketball player, Christian is a good basketball player and Jesus is going to play some good basketball for us,” Particelli said. “We have a bunch of kids that can play pretty well, and now we just need to get it together. It is an excuse, but not being able to practice yet is just ties your hands behind your back.”