Big first half carries Royals past Dons in Bashore final

In a crosstown rivalry boys basketball game played on a neutral court, Santa Barbara High came out stuck in neutral while San Marcos was running like a fine-tuned machine.

The Royals raced out to a 22-8 first-quarter advantage and led 35-13 at halftime before holding off a Santa Barbara surge in the second half for a 60-54 victory in the championship game of Carpinteria’s Jim Bashore Holiday Classic on Tuesday night.

Kevin Hempy scored 16 points, 10 in the first half, tournament MVP Bryce Ridenour added 14 points and Uriel Hurtado chipped in 12 points, including a pair of clutch free throws in the last 30 seconds for San Marcos.

Matt Wagonhurst and Jack Baker each scored 12 points for the Dons, who trailed by as many as 25 points in the third quarter.

San Marcos played with more intensity and aggressiveness at the start of the game. The Royals drove around defenders for easy baskets and beat the Dons down court in transition for layups. They took very few perimeter shots.

Santa Barbara, meanwhile, struggled to put the ball in the basket from anywhere. A tip-in by Baker at the 3:38 mark was its only basket of the first period.

The Royals continued to run at a high pace and outscored the Dons 8-1 to start the second period, expanding their lead to 30-9.

San Marcos kept up the torrid pace at the start of third period and led 41-16.

Coach Dave Odell said the game showed how the Royals are capable of playing.

“That didn’t surprise me,” Odell said of the performance. “What surprised me was I’ve been waiting for it for about 12 games. Now we just have to figure out how to do that for 32 minutes.”

Santa Barbara coach David Bregante said if he could throw out the first quarter, his team might have won the game.

“We missed a few easy shots, we got down on ourselves and we started forcing some shots” Bregante said of the slow start.

“I didn’t think we were ready for the level of intensity the game was going to be played at,” he added. “I think we figured it out at halftime what we had to do, made some adjustments and came back and played a good second half. But you got to play all 32 minutes. If we can do away with the first eight, but you can’t do that. It was a good learning experience for our kids.”

A three-point play by Baker seemed to bring Santa Barbara out of the doldrums. The Dons also got a boost when Hempy picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench at the 5:30 mark.

Now it was game on.

Santa Barbara cut the deficit to 16, 47-31 on four free throws by Noah Burke.

Emilio Gonzalez opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer and suddenly the Dons started gaining momentum. They whittled the lead under 10 when Brendan Fay hit a 3-pointer to make it 51-43 with 2:54 left in the game.

Having committed only three team fouls with 1:50 left in the half, Santa Barbara started fouling. It finally put San Marcos in the bonus with 1:31 to go and Hempy sank both free throws for a 53-43 lead.

Isaiah Tapia canned a 3-pointer and Wagonhurst converted a three-point play to bring the Dons to within six at 55-49 with 1:12 to play. The Royals lead got down to four after a wild sequence. Santa Barbara stole the ball and threw up a shot to beat the shot clock. The ball hit the rim and came down to Wagonhurst who scored underneath to make it 55-51 with 55 seconds left.

Despite seeing its big lead disappear, San Marcos kept its cool and made seven free throws down the stretch and forced a turnover in the last 20 seconds, enabling it to hold on for its first tournament title of the season.

Besides Ridenour being named MVP, Hempy was named to the all-tournament team. The rest of team included Baker of Santa Barbara, Caleb Richey of Bishop Diego, Marcus Hutchinson of Carpinteria, Chad Broadhead of Cabrillo, Matt Willkomm of Arroyo Grande and Martel Tyler of Rio Mesa.

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