Sometimes in heavyweight basketbal confrontations, it’s the unusual suspects that land the most important blows.
And that was the case Friday night at Burlingame HIgh School as the Panthers survived a furious second-half comeback by Mills to come away with the 57-51 victory.
The Panthers led by as many as 14 points on a couple of occasions before the Vikings pulled to within three with less than half a quarter of basketball to play.
But as was the case the entire night, Burlingame relied on its supporting cast during a couple of key stretches to thwart Mills momentum.
“A lot of the attention is to me and Nick (Loew),” said Burlingame guard Frankie Ferrari, who finished with 11 points. “I kind of get a double (team), or different looks. So, I just try to get everyone else involved and they knocked down shots, thankfully.”
By “they,” Ferrari is referring to Kevin Abuyaghi, Bassel Mufarreh and Jack Larratt — all of whom had major contributions in the game.
“[Mills’ defensive] zone was tough,” said Burlingame head coach Pete Harames. “You have to work every single time down because they extend it. There are a lot of arms moving and you better hit your shots.”
In the first half, the Panthers had very little trouble doing just that. Burlingame shot almost 57 percent from the floor in the first 16 minutes including 7 of 15 from beyond the arc. Justin Gutang came out nice and hot to start the contest and he fueled an early 8-0 run that helped Burlingame to a 16-10 lead after one quarter.
Mills picked up their offensive output in the second quarter. After hitting just two shots in the first period, they were 7 of 12 from the floor in the second quarter. But because Burlingame stayed consistent, the lead was up to 10 on a couple of ocassions. A big part of that was Larratt, who scored eight of his 10 points in the second quarter, including two buckets in the last couple of seconds, that pushed Burlingame’s lead to 13 come recess.
“We were able to get inside a little bit, at the end of the first half and at the end of the third quarter,” Harames said.
Mills’ defense was the catalyst for its first run of the evening — that and Robert Noland started to heat up.
Burlingame only got up 10 shots in the third quarter and, with Tyler Wright dominating the glass, Mills pushed, going on an 11-1 run to close the gap the Panthers built behind Loew’s tough work under the hoop and at the free throw line.
Noland knocked down some buckets and Marquis Adkins found some offensive rhythm. Before the period was over, Mills was only down five.
“I wasn’t surprised they made a comeback,” said Mills head coach Rick Hanson. “These kids have a lot of fight in them.”
“I guess we didn’t hit as many shots and the ball movement wasn’t as good. I thought fouls — they were driving more on us,” Harames said of Mills’ run. “I thought our defense dropped off a bit.”
The entire fourth quarter was tense, with Mills seemingly always having the emotional momentum. But for every one of their big baskets, there was a player like Abuyaghi and a big 3, or Mufarreh, who had a couple of massive hoops in the paint to calm things down.
“He played terrific,” Harames said of Mufarreh. “He’s a factor. If teams come in bigger, we can put him in.”
The Vikings had one more run in them. Noland’s drive to the hoop made it a three-point game, but he missed the free throw and from the 27-second mark on, Burlingame added some freebies to ice the win.
“Just momentum swings,” Ferrari said about the difference in the game. “They’re part of the game. Fortunately, we were able to hit key shots down the stretch and that propelled us to the win.”
The Panthers improve to 4-0 in league while Mills is now 2-2.