The Pioneers began their quest for their first CCS championship since 1976 on Thursday night as they played host to the Silver Creek Raiders in the second round of the playoff tournament.
As they have so many times this year, Tino opened up the game with an explosive 10-0 run that included two straight layups by senior Ajaypal Singh. After the Raiders finally managed to get onto the board, a behind-the-back pass from Singh led to an open corner three by Senior Ethan Shen to push the lead to 13-2.
Said teacher Wes Morse, who provided commentary for the game, “They started really strong, they moved the ball well, and I thought Ajay was featured early and that was a pretty good move.” The Pioneers ended their explosive first quarter with a 10-point lead, the score sitting at 13-3.
The second quarter started with a Singh steal and featured a contested three by Sophomore George Ellegood. The game lagged a bit as the teams traded baskets, but after a Silver Creek three with a minute left cut the deficit to eight, Singh hit a buzzer beating layup to push the lead back to 10. The score at the half: 21-11.
The second half started with a Cupertino block party as sophomore Meelad Danai viciously rejected a Silver Creek shot on their first possession of the quarter. But the Raiders came storming back, determined to get back into the game and make the second half theirs. They responded with back-to-back threes, cutting the Tino lead to 21-17.
A back-and-forth ensued: junior guard Koshi Hyunh drew a foul on a three and extended the lead by two points, Silver Creek scored on a post move, and Singh hit a contested fadeaway to push the lead back up to 25-19. Yet another Singh block led to split free throws by Danai, but Silver Creek closed with a 6-0 run and finished the quarter down just one point.
“They built up a lead and I think they got a little safe. Silver Creek got more aggressive on defense, they started coming after us and I think that made it hard to get the ball inside,” said Morse. The score at the start of the fourth: 26-25.
The team knew there would have to be a change. “I remember going into the 4th, after giving up a 10 point lead after halftime, [Coach] Ellegood basically told us, ‘okay, there is nowhere to go but up,’ and that we would somehow have to find a way to play in order to fight another day and keep going in the playoffs,” said senior Ethan Shen.
The pep talk worked, as a steal to start the fourth proved useful as the Shen-Singh connection pushed the lead to 28-25. Shen got another steal on the next possession, but the ball was stolen back by a streaking Silver Creek player who again cut their deficit to just one point. The Raiders completed their comeback when they took the lead on a contested layup at the six-minute mark. However, Tino's bad luck from range finally ended when Shen got a shooter’s bounce and hit a Singh-assisted-three with 3:30 left to take the lead again.
Said Shen, “I think that shot that bounced around and went in is like a nice analogy for the game. It wasn't pretty, and I would honestly have preferred a nice swish – but it went in so we'll take it.”
The crowd was electric, and after a Singh three and a long Ellegood jumper pushed the lead to 36-29, Silver Creek was forced to play catch-up. The Raiders hit a prayer three pointer to get the score to a manageable 38-35, but Singh iced the game with a free throw on the next possession.
“They’re a typical Ellegood team – played smart at the end of the game, did what they needed to do to pull out the win,” said Morse. The final: a 39-35 Tino win.
It was a low scoring affair, and one that was a little too close for comfort, but the result was exactly what the fans wanted. It was an exciting, to-the-wire slugfest and Tino came out on top.
Shen agreed. “Thursday night was a gritty win, an ugly win. But a win is a win.”
As the Pioneers celebrated, they were met with “We Want Paly” chants from the Tino crowd. Now, they prepare to face the fourth-seed Palo Alto Vikings in the quarterfinals of the CCS tournament. The game will be held at 4:30pm on Saturday at Piedmont Hills High in San Jose.
All Images Courtesy of Ching Hsin Wong.