Multiple Teams · The Best in the County?

The best in the county? Sequoia hammers Serra in the CCS Open Division consolation final March 03, 2017, 05:00 AM By Nathan Mollat, Daily Journal

Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Sequoia’s Zach Bene soars in for a dunk during the Cherokees’ 75-62 win over Serra in the CCS Open Division consolation final.

For as long as anyone can remember, the Serra basketball team has been the gold standard against which nearly every other school in county judges itself.

There was a changing of the guard, for one year at least, as Sequoia can put its name in the hat for best team in the county honors after routing the Padres 75-62 in the Central Coast Section Open Division consolation final, a score that belied the Cherokees’ dominance.

So, is Sequoia (25-5) the best team in the county?

“I don’t think so,” said Sequoia coach Fine Lauese. “I’ll leave that up to you guys (the media).”

The Cherokees finished second behind Menlo-Atherton in the Peninsula Athletic League standings, splitting their two regular-season meetings.

But Sequoia as now beaten M-A in its last two meetings — beating the Bears in the PAL tournament finals and again in the CCS Open Division consolation semifinals. And given the Cherokees’ performance Thursday night against the Padres in Redwood City, it’s hard to argue against them being the best.

Sequoia started the game blazing, jumping out to a quick 9-2 lead and the Cherokees never looked back. They led 20-11 after the first quarter and 41-19 at halftime. In the third quarter, Sequoia built its lead to as many as 27, 49-24, and led 62-38 after three quarters. The Padres made the score more respectable in the fourth by outscoring the Cherokees 24-13, but the damage had already been done.

“We got our ass kicked. The better team won,” said Serra coach Sean Dugoni. “It was completely obvious this consolation game didn’t mean anything to those guys in [the locker room]. It’s sad.”

Sequoia point guard N’jai LeBlanc Jr. set the tone on the first shot of the game, when he launched — and buried — a 3-pointer from two steps behind the arc. Zach Bene followed with a 3 and LeBlanc came back with his second trey in less than two minutes, this one even deeper. When he drilled another long 3 with 2:05 left in the opening quarter, it gave the Cherokees an 18-9 lead and they just kept adding on for the next two quarters.

LeBlanc would go on to finish with a game-high 15 points, 13 of which came in the first half.

LeBlanc admitted this game was huge for the Cherokees.

“Oh and 18, public schools against private schools in CCS. I’m not exactly sure on that number, but it’s something like that,” LeBlanc said. “We’ve been asking them (Serra) to come over (and play us) in preseason and they keep ducking us.

“We want more respect.”

Sequoia didn’t need a huge scoring game from LeBlanc because he got plenty of help. Bene finished with 12 points, showing his versatility by knocking down that 3 and later flushing home a dunk on the fast break. Ziggy Lauese and Myles Nuñez each added 10.

And the Cherokees were nothing if not efficient from the field as they shot a blistering 55 percent on 27 of 49 shooting.

“It was just one of those games,” LeBlanc said.

Serra, conversely, did not have one player reach double figures scoring. Denzel McCollum, Masie Mohammadi and Colin McCarthy led the Padres with eight points each.

Ziggy Lauese, Sequoia’s 6-6 center, got the better of his counterpart, Jack Wilson. Ziggy Lauese outscored the 7-footer 10-5 and outrebounded him 5-1 as well.

“I thought he played him (Wilson) really well,” Coach Lauese said. “[Ziggy] did a good job defensively. For him to play as good as he did against a 7-footer is huge. We don’t see that too often (7-footers).”

Sequoia connected on five 3-pointers in the first quarter as the Cherokees built a nine-point lead after eight minutes. Kyle Pruhsmeier’s 3 at the 6:10 mark of the second quarter pushed their lead to 10, 23-13, and after Wilson made one of two free throws for Serra, the Cherokees embarked on a 8-0 run to push their lead to 31-15 with 2:57 left in the half. Up 35-19, Sequoia closed the half with six unanswered points for a 41-19 halftime lead.

Coach Lauese, however, was not concerned with big lead.

“I was more focused on defense,” he said. “The first half, we came ready to play. I thought we did well in the first half, making everything hard for [Serra].”

And the Cherokees did not take their foot off the gas pedal in the third quarter. While Serra (14-13) played much better over the final two quarters, Sequoia matched the Padres in the third quarter as each team scored 19 points.

“Serra is a good team,” Coach Lauese said. “You can’t fall asleep on them up 20, up 30.”

The fourth quarter was mostly reserved for the reserves for both teams, with Serra finally getting the better of the Cherokees.

But it was much too little, much too late.

“We got down 9-2 and they were like, ‘Eh. It’s only a consolation game,” Dugoni said. “Hopefully they’ll do a little soul searching this weekend.”

Despite it being the last CCS game for both squads, the season is not over. By virtue of qualifying for the Open Division, both were already assured of a berth into the Northern California playoffs. Sequoia will be slotted into the Division I bracket, while Serra will go into Division II where the Padres will attempt to defend their state title.

“We can play with anybody,” LeBlanc said. “We’re just going to build off this.”

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