Aragon's Toby Liebergesell, left, along with the rest of the Dons' starters, played nearly the entire game against Aptos. They will need to recover quickly in order to
compete with Valley Christian in the CCS Division finals Saturday.
Aragon boys’ basketball coach Sam Manu couldn’t turn off the adrenaline when he got home following the Dons’ exhausting, grueling 94-93 triple-overtime win over Aptos Wednesday night in the Central Coast Section Division III semifinal.
“I couldn’t sleep at all,” Manu said. “I stayed up doing stuff until four in the morning.
“What a game.”
The third-seeded Dons will have a couple days to recover before facing No. 5 Valley Christian in the Division III championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Santa Clara University.
“We have practice [Thursday], but I think the five starters are just going to drink Gatorade,” Manu said.
It is Aragon’s first CCS championship game appearance since losing 77-61 to Palo Alto in 2003.
Considering the Dons starters play heavy minutes, rest and recovery is the name of the game. Manu used only two or three players off the bench Wednesday night and, with the condition the starters are in, it’s a wonder Aragon has gotten to where they are.
First, Manu said center Kono Filimoehala-Egan will miss the finals after undergoing previously scheduled shoulder surgery Thursday. His availability would have been in doubt regardless because Manu said Filimoehala-Egan separated his shoulder in the second quarter Wednesday.
“Given that, I think that makes us the underdog,” Manu said. “We’re going to have to reach deep into the bench and see who can show up and help us in the middle.”
Wing player Toby Liebergesell, who scored a game-high 31 points and kept the Dons in the game against Aptos, reaggravated a knee problem after banging it against the Mariners. Point guard Alex Manu retweaked the ankle he sprained in the semifinals and was cramping up late in Wednesday’s game. Guard Trevor Pagaduan was limping around with cramps and wing Kevin Hahn has played with a banged-up shoulder nearly all season long.
The Dons will need to be a full strength against a Warriors team that shut down Hillsdale in the other semifinal game Wednesday night at Foothill College. Valley Christian held the Knights to one-shot possessions for the bulk of the game and then displayed a good balance outside and inside on the offensive end.
Manu said he hasn’t seen the Warriors since the Burlingame Lions Club Tournament in December and said they are a different team.
“They look completely different. Before, they looked like football players playing basketball,” Manu said. “Now, they’re just a lot more athletic and instinctive. … You have to play solid and play your game.”
Of utmost importance will be rebounding. It’s not necessary to win the rebounding battle, but it’s critical to control the defensive boards.
To try to negate some of the Warriors’ size, the Dons will push the pace as they have all season. But Manu knows he can’t get into a full-blown track meet with a shallow bench.
But his team knows no other way.
“I don’t think they know what it means to play slow,” Manu said. “We’re going to live and die at our pace.”
Manu realizes there will be times, however, where his team will have to set up in the half-court offense. At that point, the Dons will need to turn off the jets and execute the offense.
“We like to fly and get out there, but when they’re waiting for us, we have to be patient and precise. It’s taken us all year to understand that,” Manu said. “We’ll probably have to play our best game of the year (Saturday). … We have to know all our responsibilities. I like our (basketball) instincts against their talent.”