WATSONVILLE—The last time St. Francis High sophomore Nash Horton and his teammates played Watsonville High, they walked off their home court following a disappointing loss.
The Sharks got some redemption on Thursday night after going into Wildcatz territory for a 57-53 win in Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division action.
With the win, St. Francis improved to 8-1 in league play, while Watsonville dropped to 9-1 to stay slightly ahead in the standings.
Horton—who finished with a team-best 15 points—said the difference compared to their first meeting was that they played as a team, especially over the past two weeks.
The Sharks have won four straight since their 48-45 loss to the ‘Catz on Jan. 23.
“You look at the scores, we’ve been playing as a team and that’s what’s really important to me, and really important to my teammates,” he said. “We’re all understanding each other, we’re hitting the open guy right now and that’s really what the difference is.”
Junior forward Sam Braun added 12 points, while fellow teammates Joseph Rose had nine and Christian Magaña had eight points for St. Francis, which improved to 8-1 in league play.
There was a lot of buzz going into Thursday night’s game, especially whether or not the ‘Catz could continue their win streak in league play.
However, it was the Sharks who prevailed in the end for the victory.
St. Francis controlled the tempo for most of the game and players were able to drive inside most of the night. Horton scored all 15 of his points in the first half on easy layups to the bucket.
Watsonville coach Marcus Northcutt noticed they weren’t finishing their defensive rotations and players failed to pick up the open opponent under the hoop to score with ease.
“We’ve been pretty good at that and then all of a sudden, we’re just not gonna do it,” he said. “I think part of that was them shooting threes because they’re a three-point shooting team…I think our guys were a little hesitant to rotate but you can’t give up a layup.”
Watsonville junior Brody Legions had a game-high 28 points including 16 in the second half where he slowly began owning the paint.
Fellow teammate Karlos Corpus contributed 10 points for the ‘Catz, who dropped to 9-1 in league play this season.
Northcutt commends the ‘Catz for playing hard in the second half instead of taking a game or two to figure things out. The players were making comments prior to the game about having a large crowd on hand, not realizing the magnitude of Thursday night’s game.
Watsonville had been playing as the underdog this season and they got used to being in that position.
“We kind of thrive off of it,” Northcutt said. “We were the ones getting chased and I don’t think the guys were used to being in that position.”
It wasn’t until the second half when the ‘Catz turned it around by pushing the ball much faster, making it a tight game with less than a minute left in the game.
St. Francis head coach Duncan Edwards believes each team played hard in both league games, which is why they ended up splitting the season series.
On Thursday, the Sharks built a lead—at one point going up by as many as 19 points—and it was hard for the ‘Catz to come crawling back.
The evening also didn’t start off as planned after Watsonville was called for a technical foul prior to the tip off. It gave the Sharks a pair of free throw attempts and possession of the ball.
Northcutt said it threw off the start and the intensity leading into it of the game. He believes they should’ve been able to bounce back a lot sooner than they did.
“That might’ve been the worst first half we’ve ever played,” he said. “We just weren’t in rhythm.”
Horton also lost a bit of his rhythm after he went cold in the second half, going scoreless and picking up three personal fouls.
“We also started to slow the game down a little bit, we weren’t playing at our usual pace,” he said. “Usually we’re up and down the court in a second’s notice, but it’s different when you’re playing a team that you have close games with.”
Senior guard Tajin Olivas drained a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter including one that pulled the ‘Catz to within two, 55-53, with less than a minute left in the game.
But it was Braun who came to the rescue with a pair of clutch free throws to seal the deal, giving the Sharks some hope to at least win a share of the PCAL Cypress Division crown.
Watsonville had plenty of opportunities to cut the deficit, yet they left some points on the board by making just 10-of-20 free throw attempts.
Northcutt said the ball is now in their court to figure out if the loss is going to break them or if they’ll learn from it to use it as fuel to finish out the season the right way.
“I told them unfortunately I can’t help you with that one because that’s an internal thing,” he said. “So, we’ll see where they go. They did a little better in the second half, so maybe they’re already there.”
The ‘Catz (12-8, 9-1) will try to bounce back at Rancho San Juan (11-7, 4-4) on Feb. 6 at 7pm. St. Francis (13-6, 8-1) will play at Rancho San Juan on Saturday at noon.
“Morality wise, we’re through the roof right now, of course,” Horton said. “We’re going to sleep it off and we’re gonna go on to the next game. We gotta think about the next game because right now it’s tied and we have to come out on top, that’s our goal.”