ST. HELENA — 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.
The Calistoga High boys basketball team 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,” Calistoga co-coach Ray 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.
Christian 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.
Cesar 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.
“Position by position, we are decent,” added Particelli. “We just got to harness that and the individuals with the skill sets they have to learn how to use those particular skills to make the team better within the framework of the team. Right now we have guys who know they are quick, know they can beat you off the dribble or make that shot. They know they can do it, and we need to know they we can do it.”
The Wildcats won only two games last season, but have a chance to tie that mark against John Swett on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the seventh-place game. The Warriors fell to El Molino of Forestville, 58-52.
“I think we will be OK, but I think the tough part for us will be these early season frustrations and kids not losing their focus” Particelli said.