Castro Valley High punched its ticket into the North Coast Section semifinals and a berth in the Division I Northern California boys basketball tournament, pulling away in the final 1:08 for a 69-60 victory Friday night over Monte Vista.
Senior Dawson Johnson made clutch shots and clutch free throws time and time again, scoring 24 of his game-high 35 points in the second half.
Sophomore guard Jalen McFerren also stood tall with 18 points, hardly missing a free throw in numerous pressure-packed attempts, as the fourth seeded Trojans finally gained a hard-earned victory over the fifth seeded Mustangs.
Senior Dan Gallagher, held scoreless in the first half, came on strong to lead Monte Vista with 19 points.
“Yeah, they played their (butts) off, and I’m so proud of them,” said Castro Valley coach Nick Jones. “We’ve got our hands full Wednesday. But we’ll enjoy this victory tonight and then move on.”
Jones, who came over a few years ago after being an assistant and a junior varsity coach at Monte Vista, added, “I know a lot of people counted us out this year, but here we are.”
Castro Valley (21-6) will face top-seeded De La Salle (25-2) on Wednesday at the Concord private school. The Spartans romped Friday night in their quarterfinal victory over Heritage.
Monte Vista coach Bill Powers, whose team fell one win shy of reaching the NorCals, was still proud of his team, which finished 20-8 and in second place in the East Bay League behind champion De La Salle. Indeed, the Mustangs pulled off a 41-40 upset of the mighty Spartans in a league game.
“I love this team,” an emotional Powers said in brief comments after the game. “They fought all the way. I’m not disappointed tonight with their effort.”
Indeed, the Mustangs dominated early. Behind guards Garret Linck and Nico Zamora, the Mustangs jumped to 9-1 and 13-3 leads and were up 18-8 after the first quarter. Linck, who had 12 points, and Zamora, who had 11 points, each had nine points in the first half.
But the many home fans in the packed Castro Valley High gym became even louder in the second quarter as the Trojans started mounting a comeback.
Even so, Monte Vista, with a strong contigent that formed a sea of red in the southwest corner of the gym, still led 30-25 when the ball went out of bounds with one second left in the half.
McFerren took the inbounds pass from the left baseline in the left corner and was ruled to have gotten the 3-pointer try in time, and it swished to make it 30-28 Monte Vista at the half.
Just 24 seconds into the second half, the Trojans took their first lead of the game, 32-30, on Johnson’s slick move in the lane as the senior then scored the hoop-and-one on a foul.
Castro Valley scored the first seven points of the second half, and counting McFerren's three at the first-half buzzer, the 10-0 run gave it a 35-28 lead it never relinquished.
A brief Monte Vista rally got it down to 35-33, but four or five times Castro Valley erected seven-point leads only for the Mustangs to draw near. A turnover that led to a break-away hoop by Stevie Oliveira pulled Monte Vista to within 59-56 with 1:52 left.
But after a Castro Valley missed shot, a scramble for the loose ball ensued. A Monte Vista player had the ball momentarily, but a Castro Valley player knocked it loose, and Johnson wound up with it and was fouled with 1:08 to go.
The senior star made the first free throw but missed the second, just his second and last missed free throw of the game. The next Monte Vista possession, Oliveira was called for taking steps. From that point on, the Mustangs were forced to foul and the Trojans made all but one of 10 free throws, Johnson and McFerrin not missing.
Asked about the play of Johnson, the only holdover starter for last year’s powerhouse team, the Jones said, “Player of the year. He’s showed it all year and he showed it tonight. He’s a stud.”
And noting how strong the sophomore McFerren has come on, Jones said, “He’s a stud, too. He stepped up tonight. He had a little rough patch for about a week awhile back, but he’s only gotten better since then.”