Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Aragon’s Alex Manu splits a pair of Valley Christian defenders on a drive to the basket during the Dons’ 61-55 win over the Warriors in the CCS Division III title game at Santa Clara
University Saturday afternoon.
SANTA CLARA — Aragon boys’ basketball coach Sam Manu is going to need a nap at some point when the Dons season finally reaches a conclusion.
Manu said he didn’t get to sleep until about 4 in the morning Thursday following his team’s 94-93 triple-overtime win over Aptos in the Central Coast Section Division III semifinals Wednesday night.
Manu wasn’t expecting much more rest after his Dons topped Valley Christian 61-55 to claim the CCS Division III championship at Santa Clara University Saturday afternoon.
“I’m definitely not going to sleep tonight!” Manu said after Saturday’s win, which qualified Aragon for the Northern California tournament beginning this week.
The title is the first for the Aragon boys’ basketball program since 1994, when the Dons beat Los Gatos 68-64.
“This whole season has been a blessing for us,” Manu said. “We’re very thankful.”
The Dons went about claiming the only CCS boys’ basketball title by a public school by playing completely against character. Aragon is known mainly for its up-tempo offense, not its half-court sets and defensive prowess.
But that is exactly how the Dons knocked off a team from the West Catholic Athletic League. The Dons did manage to get in transition several times during the game, but more often than not, they found themselves patiently passing the ball around the perimeter until an opportunity presented itself.
Patience was the name of the game Saturday.
“Our game is (to) run, but coach said to be patient,” said Aragon’s Toby Liebergesell, who scored a game-high 28 points — 17 coming in the second half.
In addition to Liebergesell’s 28, point guard Alex Manu added 17 and wing Kevin Hahn added nine points, six rebounds and four block shots.
It was that patience that got the Dons the lead. It was their defense that cemented the championship. The first big defensive stop came with Aragon clinging to a 54-51 lead when Hahn came up with his third of four blocks of the game, giving the Dons the possession.
With the lead still at three, it was Aragon that came up with a loose ball after the Warriors fumbled it in the offensive end.
With under two minutes to play, Alex Manu came up with a clutch offensive rebound which allowed the Dons to run some more time off the clock.
With just over a minute left and the Dons still nursing that 54-51 advantage, Aragon came up with a steal.
The Dons failed to build on their lead, however, by missing the front end of a 1-and-1 at the free-throw line, but Aragon again denied the Warriors on the offensive end, with Hahn partially blocking a 3-point attempt and Liebergesell grabbing the loose ball.
He was fouled and went on to ice the game from the free-throw line, converting 5 of 6 free throws in the final 29 seconds.
Liebergesell’s’ play was key in keeping the Dons in the game. After scoring 11 points in the first half, Liebergesell poured in nine in the third quarter alone, trimming a six-point halftime deficit to just three, 46-43, going into the fourth quarter.
He added eight more over the final eight minutes to give Aragon it’s first CCS title, in any sport, since the girls’ soccer team tied for the 2012 Division II crown.
“I was just staying patient,” Liebergesell said. “When everyone is keying on my teammates, that’s when I step up.”
In the first half, it appeared Valley Christian’s Stephen Ellis was going to single-handedly carry the Warriors to the title. He scored 18 points in the first two quarters, draining six 3s in the process.
Aragon, as a team finished with seven.
Despite Ellis’ hot shooting, the Dons stayed within striking distance. They opened with a 6-2 run and led 13-7 following a Liebergesell baseline layup with 3:36 left in the opening quarter.
Valley Christian responded with a 12-4 run to close the period and take a 19-17 lead.
Ellis had 10 points in the quarter, but his production gradually tailed off the rest of the game as he finished with 25 points.
Aragon, meanwhile, kept plugging along. Down 27-20 with 5:44 left in the half, Liebergesell converted a three-point play and added a pair of free throws to cut the Warriors’ lead to 27-25, but Aragon scored only four points over the final four minutes, while Ellis stroked a pair of 3s to close the half with Valley Christian up 35-29.
Which was fine with Manu.
“When we came in at break, I told them this is the kind of game we want,” Manu said. “We knew [Ellis] couldn’t stay that hot all game long.”
Aragon cut three points off its deficit going into the fourth quarter, but the Warriors pushed it back to five, 51-46 with 6:16 to play.
Valley Christian would score only four more points the rest of the way.
The Dons responded with one of their quick, multi-point outburst, taking control of the game. Liebergesell knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to 51-49 and Hahn nailed a 3 of his own to give the Dons the lead for good, 52-51, with 4:32 to play.
Alex Manu followed with a jumper before the Dons closed the championship on the free-throw line, hitting 7 of 8 inside the final minute.
“We’re not done yet,” Liebergesell said, referencing the Nor Cal tournament. “But this is a big milestone (victory) for us.”