No seniors, no problem.
When junior guard Sean Richardson grabbed the final rebound of the night in No. 2-seed Burlingame’s 57-51 victory over No. 3 Saratoga at home in the Central Coast Section Division III semifinals Thursday night, all he could think of was the dreams of dynasty the core Panthers have been striving for since arriving on the scene two years ago as upstart varsity freshmen.
“I was thinking we’re going to go try to get this championship now,” Richardson said. “One after another.”
It has been a season of grit and guile for the Panthers (10-4), who took the floor Thursday without one of their key pieces. Junior guard Lou Martineau — after hitting six 3-pointers in the CCS quarterfinals against Aptos — was diagnosed with a sprained ankle and is likely out for the year.
The Panthers — a team off all non-seniors since the season’s outset — fielded just seven players Thursday but somehow finished at a torrid pace, overcoming a 47-41 deficit midway through the fourth quarter to close on a 16-3 run.
“We’ve been working here since October,” Burlingame head coach Jeff Dowd said. “Now it’s June 11. We’ve been putting in a lot of time, a lot of effort — guys get hurt, next guys step up — so I’m just really proud of the effort and the way they compete. Just looking for them to go out and have one more great effort.”
Sophomore forward Zaden Martin nailed a 3-pointer with 2:56 remaining to tie it. Then sixth-man Ilan Rosenbaum scored his only points of the night, getting fouled on a layup and converting the and-1 to give Burlingame the lead for good.
It was a tireless effort that saw the momentum surge in a big way in the closing minutes. It was a major swing after the Panthers shot just 3 of 15 from the floor in the third quarter and, after leading 37-33, saw Saratoga go on a 10-0 run into the fourth.
But, oh what a finish it was for a Burlingame squad missing not just Martineau, but has seen juniors Jacob Yamagishi, Carson Robenalt and Ryan Gurovich all shelved with injuries this season as well.
“It’s all heart,” Martin said of the big finsih. “We all trust each other, we all come together as a team in big moments, and we pull out Ws.”
Junior guard Will Uhrich was a catalyst for the Panthers both early and late. Recording a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, Uhrich opened the night with a momentous play, taking a charging foul as Saratoga guard Nathan Oh elevated toward the hoop and threw a hard knee into his chest.
“The charges that I take, they just bring energy, and they just lift up the team spirit,” Uhrich said. “It leads to good plays and good things.”
Uhrich continued to make good things happen down the stretch. He scored nine points in the fourth quarter and sparked the offense when it was needed most. With the Panthers trailing 45-37 with 6:31 to go, he scored on back-to-back possessions before connecting with a perimeter 3 to close it to 47-44, setting the stage for Martin’s game-tying 3.
“The intensity is so high out there and I think we all played as a team,” Uhrich said. “That leads to buckets and the win tonight.”
Saratoga forward Cameron King netted a game-high 22 points, including six 3s. But his impressive step-back 3 to make it 47-41 would be his final points of the night.
The Burlingame defense locked down from there. Led by center Tyler Mausenhund, who was a pivotal swing presence in the 2-3 zone, Richardson was freed up to crash the boards relentlessly. Richardson finished with a double-double as well, totaling 12 points and 11 rebounds, including six boards in the fourth quarter.
“I thought [Uhrich and Richardson] played so hard and they kind of lifted everybody up,” Dowd said. “The great thing is besides the great effort, they both made pressure free throws down the stretch.”
Uhrich was 6 of 8 from the stripe, including two free throws inside the closing minute to make it 53-48. Richardson hit 3 of 4 free throws inside the final 20 seconds.
“We like to play with a lot of poise as a team,” Richardson said. “We play as a team, we work really hard, and our practice pays off.”
Burlingame now advances to its first CCS championship game since 2013. The Panthers will travel to No. 1 Santa Cruz Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off after the Cardinals knocked off knocked off No. 5 Jefferson 55-35 in Thursday’s other semifinal.