FAIRFIELD — The Mustangs came out of the gates running after walking the first 16 minutes.
Following an abysmal first half, the Rodriguez High boys basketball team found its way to come back and defeat Menlo-Atherton 53-45 in the opening round of the Northern California regionals, Wednesday, the first NorCals win in school history.
The Mustangs (27-3) looked to have an easy first round as they were up against the visiting Bears who finished fourth in the Peninsula-South League and were 4-5 on the road before the game.
The opening tipoff went Rodriguez’s way but that was the only thing that went right in the first half for the home team.
Keanu Williams put up the Mustangs’ first points on a pair of free throws – which ended up being the main source of points for Rodriguez in the first quarter.
Rishod Abraham would go 1 for 2 on his trip to the stripe making it a 3-2 game with 6 minutes, 2 seconds left.
On Menlo-Atherton’s ensuing possession, Royce Branning made a three-point play putting the Bears (18-10) up 5-3 with 5:14 left – they never gave up the lead until the second half.
The Mustangs’ only bucket in the quarter was a Kyle Williams layup – tying the game at 5 apiece with 5:05 left.
The next basket for the green, black and white did not come until there was 5:47 left on the clock in the second quarter on a floater from Kesean Graham.
Rodriguez was 1 for 11 in the first quarter with an 11-7 deficit after one. The Mustangs did not shoot much better in the second quarter when it went 3 for 12 – getting within 22-14 at halftime.
“We weren’t communicating on defense,” said Mustangs coach Nate Rankin about the first half. “Based on our last game against Jesuit, we wanted to make adjustments. Things that we worked on at practice were not executed when we first came out.
“We were looking for areas to attack and shooting gaps. We got out of our offense. We were spread wider than we wanted. Our guys were making 15 to 20 foot passes and weren’t taking good shots.”
After a pull-up jumper from Branning, the Bears increased their lead to 24-14 to begin the half.
Then the Mustangs started running.
Senior guard Tim Moore Jr. started the momentum swing for the home team as he was fouled making a layup in traffic – closing the gap to 24-16 despite not converting the 3-point play.
After a Menlo-Atherton turnover, Kyle Williams made an easy shot under the basket to get within 24-18.
After two more turnovers from the Bears and fast breaks from Rodriguez’s Kyle and Keanu Williams, the deficit was only 24-23 with 4:57 left in the third quarter.
“In the second half, the kids played defense,” Rankin said. “We got the right shots instead of jacking up shots. Playing (man-to-man defense) forced the issue. We are an up-tempo team and we wanted to force the action.”
The Mustangs forced more than just action, they forced the Bears to commit 10 turnovers in the third quarter.
After the visitors scored a quick five points, Rodriguez was down 29-23 with 3:50 left in the quarter.
The Mustangs then went on a 10-1 run – giving them a 33-30 lead going into the final quarter.
Menlo-Atherton opened the fourth with a basket under the hoop from Deverick Meachum, making the score 33-32 – the closest the Bears got before Rodriguez widened the gap for good.
The Mustangs went on an 11-2 run, giving them a 47-36 advantage. Kyle Williams iced the game after being sent to the free-throw line, making six of his eight shots.
Rodriguez will travel to Bay Valley League champion, Freedom of Oakley on Saturday.