SANTA CRUZ–The Watsonville High boys’ basketball team on Tuesday took a short road trip up Highway 1 to square off against crosstown rival Pajaro Valley High.
The Wildcatz hosted the Grizzlies in their Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division game at Kaiser Permanente Arena, home of the Santa Cruz Warriors.
But it was senior Esteban Fernandez who took the opportunity to shine in the spotlight, as he recorded a double-double to help lift Pajaro Valley past Watsonville, 73-51, in league action.
“I was feeling pumped up and I told my coach that I was going to get my stats up,” Fernandez said. “He believed in me and my team believed in me. I gave everything on the court.”
The 6-foot-4 center/forward racked up 12 rebounds and he scored 10 points for the Grizzlies (5-12, 1-2), who won their first league game of the season.
“I’m looking forward to getting more double-doubles in future games,” he said.
The Grizzlies lost last year’s contest to the Wildcatz in the very same building.
Fernandez said it was an incredible experience to be able to play in a pro arena with the bright lights shining on them.
“It just makes me want to do more,” he said.
It was the second game at KP Arena for senior Christian Quintero.
“It was cool last year and we lost,” he said. “We finally redeemed ourselves this year, so it’s all good.”
Both schools were each given 100 tickets to sell at $20 a piece in order to be able to use the building. The ticket also includes admission to a Santa Cruz Warriors home game in March.
The setting was different but the goal was the same for Quintero, who scored a team-high 20 points.
“We knew we were confident, we knew we had something to prove,” he said. “We always have something to prove and we always stay with a chip on our shoulder.”
Quintero said he believed the team left everything on the court. Senior Bryan Gallardo contributed 16 points for Pajaro Valley.
“I wouldn’t say it was a big win,” Quintero said. “We should be winning every game we play. But this is definitely a step in the right direction.”
The Wildcatz kept within reach of the Grizzlies in the first quarter until they dug themselves in a 15-point hole going into halftime, 39-24.
Pajaro Valley pulled ahead by as many as 30 points after freshman Fernando Serrano drained a 3-point shot before the end of the third quarter that made it 64-34.
Quintero said they stayed patient in the second half and began to make shots and finished easy layups. He mentioned they practiced hard and the results showed on Tuesday.
“They were wide open, easy stuff,” Quintero said.
Pajaro Valley coach Andre Bailey said it’s been some time since they played a complete game.
Bailey said making easy shots has been one of their biggest struggles.
“If we would’ve lost I think our season would’ve been over,” Bailey said. “We just haven’t been playing well and we needed to play a good brand of basketball.”
Depleted Watsonville (5-12, 0-3) struggled to find its footing. The ‘Catz were without four of their starters including junior Donovan Mendoza, who sat out with an injury.
Watsonville coach Marcus Northcutt said the learning curve has been rough for the replacements. He said most have not had a chance to play at the speed and intensity of the varsity level.
Freshman Karlos Corpus scored a game-high 22 points for the Wildcatz. He was one of two freshmen that started in Tuesday’s game.
“Karlos (Corpus) has adjusted fantastic and he’s doing a great job,” Northcutt said. “Still, there’s some stuff they just don’t recognize.”
Northcutt said it was still a fun experience to play at KP Arena.
Plus, he said the players got hyped about playing in the same building as the Golden State Warriors’ G League affiliate.
“You think about who plays here and even Steph (Curry) and them come to watch sometimes,” Northcutt said. “To be able to get on a full size court with the real NBA line out there…they dig it.”
Richard Stubblefield, a longtime public address announcer for Watsonville, took over the same duties at KP Tuesday.
“It was such a thrill, it really was,” he said.
Stubblefield usually lends his voice for just the varsity team. On Friday, he got the chance to call three games–freshmen, J.V. and Varsity–for the first time this season.
“When this came on the schedule and Watsonville was the home team, I had to,” Stubblefield said.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Stubblefield but he said he was also looking forward to having the players share the same experience.
Northcutt said sometimes it’s not always about winning but it’s about giving the players chances to build a storage bank of everlasting memories.
“I try to do that as much as possible,” Northcutt said. “Good teams, struggling teams, whatever the case may be they get an experience that they can remember.”
Editor’s Note: This article will be published in the Jan. 24 edition of The Pajaronian.