FROM THE AUBURN JOURNAL
They’ve been the engine driving the car all season, this trio of senior leaders on Placer High’s boys basketball team, and they did it again Wednesday night, each taking his moment to shine.
But this time, in the opening round of the CIF Div. III State Basketball Championships, Jeremy Lillis, Jordan Ferreira and Kai Huntsberry got more than a little help from their friends in a convincing 73-52 victory over ninth-seeded Analy on Wednesday at Earl Crabbe Gym in Auburn.
“This was a total team effort,” coach Mark Lee said. “The bench came in when we were in foul trouble. Derek Shreeve did an excellent job playing defense. Layton Birchell came in and played nice defense on their big guy. Rylan Walsh and Noah Richardson came in and did a nice job, too.“
Lillis led the way with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Huntsberry had 18 points and five steals, and Ferreira, despite not shooting well, had a solid all-around game with 17 points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists.
It didn’t come as easily as the score might indicate.
Both teams came out sluggish in the first quarter – “Not sure what it was, but it was a very slow pace,” Lee said – and the Hillmen were happy to take a 13-9 lead at the end of it.
To be specific, it was Placer 13, Dom Tripodi 9. Tripodi led the visitors, and all scorers, with 23 points, while the “big man” Lee referred to, added 19.
After the teams exchanged scores to open the second quarter, Placer, up 15-13, went on its first big run of the game.
Lee had been frustrated by Analy’s ability to beat the Hillmen’s man-to-man full-court press, and he thought the game might be at a tipping point, so he launched a full-court trap.
The Hillmen got three straight steals that propelled them to an 8-0 burst and a 21-5 run overall to push the lead to 36-18, at that point the largest of the contest.
“We had to come after them a little bit and try to dictate on defense,” Lee said. “They were going by us man to man, so we went to a trap.”
Tripodi did his best to keep the Tigers in it – he’d already hit a three to end the first quarter, and he buried another one to end the half with the HIllmen up 38-23.
That nearly proved to be pivotal, as Lillis had to sit early in the third quarter, and when he went to the bench, so did the Hillmen’s offense.
Over the next five to six minutes, Placer scored a grand total of two points, and the Tigers clawed back to within 41-35.
“We wanted to have better ball movement,” Lee said. “We were holding the ball and stopping the ball, and that gave their defense time to adjust.”
With Lillis sitting, Ferreira, as he has most of the season, stepped up.
He strugged off several missed shots – shots he normally makes – and drove hard to the basket to draw contact. He made both free throws.
Tripodi answered yet again for Analy.
But Ferreira had found his groove again. He scored, and then Brendyn Ikeda scored his only six points on the night, on a pair of long-range jumpers and a free throw, to push the lead back to double digits and give the Hillmen some breathing room.
“Ikeda’s big shots helped us,” Lee said. “They had to extend their zone, and Kai was able to penetrate.”
Indeed, Placer, ahead 53-39 after three, found their offense flowing again and gradually pulled away from the visitors in the final frame.
There was one scary moment. With about four minutes left, Huntsberry was ahead on a fast break and was fouled hard on the layup attempt. He stayed down on the court for about a minute.
“I was worried about it,” Lee said.
Finally, he stood up, shook his head a bit and calmly sank both free throws.
“I Just checked his actions and his facial expressions. He was fine,” Lee said.
Also fine on the night: Jordan Perlow. One of the “other” starters, Perlow’s stat sheet was quiet – just four points and four rebounds – but he played hard defense against Tripodi and sparked the Hillmen when they needed it with a deflection or a timely bucket.
“He does a lot of things right and makes very few mental errors,” Lee said of Perlow. “He always gives a lot of enery. He boards, he assists, he gets loose balls. So he does a nice job for us. All year, he’s done that.”
Next up for the eight-seed Hillmen: a trip to San Francisco to take on top-seed St. Ignatius. The game will tip off at 6 p.m. Saturday.