Royals not afraid to mix it up, beat Dos Pueblos

It’s not all about running up and down the floor for the San Marcos boys basketball team. The Royals showed Wednesday that they don’t mind getting floor burns and banging bodies.

San Marcos stepped up its defensive intensity, wrestled for balls on the floor and crashed the boards in beating a short-handed Dos Pueblos team, 59-46, at Sovine Gym. The win gives the Royals sole possession of first place in the Channel League at 4-1. Their only loss was at home against Dos Pueblos in the first round of league play.

Jake Wheelock poured in 21 points, knocking down three 3-pointers, including a four-point play to spark an 11-3 San Marcos run in the third period that opened up a 43-28 lead. Kevin Hempy was a jumping jack on the boards, grabbing a team-high 14 rebounds to go with 14 points. Bryce Ridenour added eight points and Ian Douglas came off the bench to score seven for the Royals, who improve to 13-5 overall.

Dos Pueblos (11-6, 4-2) got 20 points from Cruz Mertens, who faced tough defensive pressure from the San Marcos tag team of Uriel Hurtado, Ridenour and Paxton Ridgway. Gerry Perez added nine points for the Chargers, who played without 6-6 Zach Shugart, their second leading scorer. He was on the bench in street clothes because of a knee problem.

San Marcos made it tough for Mertens to get open looks in the first half.

“We kind of did it by committee,” San Marcos coach Dave Odell said. “We knew that without Shugart there, they would have to get a lot of points out of (Cruz). So, I figured if we could stop him that would be good for us.”

The Royals offense, meanwhile, was running on all cylinders, with players driving and cutting to the basket for easy baskets. They roared out to a 17-8 lead in the first period and led 24-16 at halftime.

Mertens and Chris Williams scored baskets to start the third period, cutting DP’s deficit to four points. But San Marcos continued to attack the rim and scored on free throws by Ridenour and Hempy, and Wheelock buried a 3-pointer to put the Royals up by 10, 32-22.

“The kids dug themselves a little bit of a hole, but we cut into it,” DP coach Joe Zamora said. “San Marcos, you’ve got to give it to them, they did some good things offensively, from the perimeter and the interior.

“But my guys really battled. You saw it throughout the game – they don’t give up. They never stopped.”

After C.J. Zajic stole the ball and scored to make it 32-24, there was a sequence where the frustrated Mertens couldn’t get a shot to go down from the outside or inside.

“He had a little bit of an off night,” Zamora said of Mertens. “That’s going to happen; sometimes shooters are going to go through that. We have a good one, two, three, four, five punch with Zach in there. It makes it a little bit less without him. I know (Cruz) wanted to step up and help lead the team. Sometimes when you want to do a little too much, this happens.”

Wheelock scored his third 3-pointer of the night and was fouled. He made the free-throw to complete the four-point play, putting San Marcos up 36-25 with 4:42 left in the period.

“It was just one of those nights,” Wheelock said. “I had that and-one … I was a little lucky, I’m sure, but I’m happy it went down.”

“Jake is a gun-slinger,” Odell said. “He can make shots, and we need guys like that.”

After Perez made with a 3-pointer for DP, the Royals scored the next seven points — Wheelock on an assist from Ridgway, Hempy on a drive, Hempy on a free throw and Douglas on a 12-foot bank shot — to go up 43-28.

San Marcos pushed the lead as high as 18, 53-35, in the fourth quarter.