The Chargers were fully charged up on Saturday night as a plethora of players up and down the Wilcox roster provided a spark in an eventual 53-37 win over Pioneer. Wilcox is the No. 9 seed in this CCS Division II boys basketball playoff bracket and were taking on the No. 8 seeded Mustangs, who had home court advantage. And while the final score may sound lopsided, the Chargers were pushed hard in this one as it was a 36-36 game early in the fourth quarter.
An 8-0 Wilcox run to move up 44-36 was led by star captains Brendon Yi and Isaiah Frazier. Not to be forgotten, though, was part of that run included some tough defense from Deandel Laureta, who nearly forced a steal in helping force a 24-second shot clock violation.
“Deandel is amazing, we missed him last year when he didn’t play,” chimed Frazier on his hard-working teammate. “He’s always been that dude who pushes you to another level but doesn’t get recognition because of how tall he is. He’s an amazing defender, amazing shooter, great all around. One of those dudes who nobody wants to go up against in practice.”
“Deandel the disrupter,” chuckled Wilcox Head Coach Robert Toloy on his scrappy junior guard. “We lost him in the second game in the Santa Cruz tournament to an injury to his ankle. He never really got back to where he was before the injury, but this past week at practice we knew he was back. He’s the kind of guy where when we defend full court, if you go by him, he’s chasing you down. And he’s going to either take it from you or make you pull up. Super quick, super solid defender.”
Along with Laureta, multiple other unsung heroes stood out for the Chargers in the first round win. While one wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that Yi, Frazier and Pratinav Sharma are the “big three” on this team, the Chargers have multiple role players who are more than capable of bigger roles. Jonathan Chang hit a big three to start the second half against Pioneer and is typically a strong presence down low in the paint. The same can be said for Amir Kilani — Kilani got a lucky bounce, high off the backboard, but still opened the scoring for Wilcox with a three-point shot against the Mustangs. Furthermore, senior Matthew Go gets overshadowed by the ability Yi has on the ball, but the senior guard can make plays himself. Go pushed back the defense and kicked a pass out to a wide-open Solomon Berhane for a three pointer in the first half. He would also pretty much ice the game with a three pointer of his own to put Wilcox up 13 with 2:15 left to play.
Perhaps the biggest weakness for the Chargers this season has been defensive intensity early in games. When they lock in and focus on defense, though, they can be a formidable foe for any opponent.
Even the No. 1 seed Hillsdale Fighting Knights had difficulty with Wilcox. The Chargers nearly pulled off an upset Tuesday night in the quarterfinals, but the Knights escaped with a 53-51 victory.