The rivalry between Santa Barbara High and San Marcos has been going strong for generations, and this year is no exception, as Dons Basketball faced off against the Royals on January 10. A home game for the Dons, J.R Richards Gym was packed to the brim with students, parents and community members eager to cheer on the teams as they played each other for the first time this season. The Dons came into the game at 12-7, having been plagued with injuries throughout the season. They got off to a shaky start with the first quarter ending 11-19 in San Marcos’s favor. They fared better in the second quarter as three-pointers from Luke Zuffelato and Tobin Shyrock cut the deficit to just two points with one minute left in the half. However, a clutch three-pointer by Royals guard Joe Pasternack brought the score to 36-31 going into halftime.
The tide changed in the third quarter as the Dons locked in defensively, holding the Royals to just nine points. Additional three-point shots by Waylon Finkel and Luke Zuffelato (who has been averaging 27 points per game) brought the Dons their first lead of the night as they finished out the quarter 48-45. The Dons did not trail again, and despite a stressful fourth quarter, managed to convert nine of twelve free throws to put the game away. The game finished with a 63-59 SB victory as the Dons controlled the ball for the last seconds of the game.
“We made some adjustments on our defense but it was really that the players started playing harder, playing together and communicating.” explained Head Coach Greg Zuffelato when asked what changed from the first to second half. In addition to sound defensive play, the game saw some impressive offensive performances including that of senior Waylon Finkel who said, “You always want to play well in the big games, and it was nice to come out with my teammates, [to] be able to get the win but also have a big night for myself.” Finkel scored a season high of 14 points in the game which along with Zuffelato’s 22 played a key role in the Dons victory as the pair scored well over half the team’s points.
Looking ahead to the Dons second match up against San Marcos, Coach Zuffelato said “We’re gonna have a much different beginning of the game strategy for defense, because that’s what hurt in us this game, we weren’t ready, and I think we just need to work more on executing and being poised to start the game.” This is especially important as the Dons will be playing away at San Marcos for the rematch. When asked how they will get ready for the hostile environment, Coach Zuffelato said “we can prepare in practice by making it higher pressure, we can do crowd noise, we can do all that during practice to make it like the real game.”
This strategy paid off as the Dons secured a hard won victory in the rematch at San Marcos on January 29th. The game began with a three pointer by D.J Wilson plus a pair of free throws by Zuffelato giving the Dons a 5-0 lead to start. SB continued to dominate throughout the first quarter as Wilson scored nine points on a trio of free throws to bring the lead to 17-5. “It was great to help the team get past our slow start and I really think it was a team effort just moving the ball a lot and playing unselfish” Wilson said of his impressive 15 point game. The Dons continued to dominate in the second quarter as strong defensive play and back to back layups by Will Harmon helped extend the lead to 26-7 with 5:09 left in the half. San Marcos controlled the rest of the quarter as Royals forward Koji Hefner scored seven straight points, narrowing the Dons lead to 26-16 at the half.
Going back and forth to start the second half a pair of floaters by Zuffelato brought the Dons lead to 36-22 midway through the 3rd quarter. The Royals then managed to have a 9-0 run which narrowed the Dons lead to a mere 5 points. As the pressure mounted the Dons found a way to lock in through communication on both sides of the ball as the quarter ended 39-33 in their favor.
With the game on the line a layup by Royals forward Shane Kadlec cut the Dons lead to just one score with 5:39 on the clock. Shortly thereafter a free throw by senior Finn Whips proved to be a pivotal play for the Dons as it led to a 10-2 run in the ensuing two minutes. In an attempt to salvage the game the Royals played foul ball in the final minutes but this was no match for the Dons as they finished the night with a 14 point victory 57-43. This was due in no small part to the 10 rebounds and 22 points scored by Luke Zuffelato, who is currently ranked 5th in CIF Southern Section points per game.
“We had a really great start on defense, we were up 23-7 early on and in addition to that just our mental toughness throughout the game, when they came back we kept fighting ” Replied Coach Zuffelato when asked about the key to the win. Team captain Tobin Shyrock agreed saying “we did it by countless hours in the gym and working on our hand signals because we couldn’t hear last night and then our team just worked really well together, we knew we had to in a packed gym”. Shyrock, who is currently ranked 8th in CIF Southern Section assists, added to this saying “It’s a great feeling for our team to beat SM, especially a sweep, we haven’t swept SM in six years and it was just a big win in general so now we’re only one win away from getting the league championship” The Dons will continue to face even greater challenges as they gear up for the playoffs but the team is more than ready after this galvanizing victory. In the words of Shyrock, “all odds were against us but we still won.”