Santa Barbara's Tobin Shyrock has his shot attempt blocked by Darius Eslava of Gabrielino during a CIF-SS Division 4AA second-round playoff game. Credit: Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo

There was a play early in the third quarter when Santa Barbara High’s boys basketball team looked like it would pull away from a feisty Gabrielino in a second-round CIF-SS Division 4AA playoff game.

Carter Battle raced back on defense and knocked the ball off a Gabrielino player’s knee as he went up for layup. Luke Zuffelato followed with a 3-pointer at the other end to give the Dons a 34-26 advantage.

But Gabrielino would not go away. Playing fast and loose, the Eagles capitalized on turnovers and knocked down shot after shot in the third and fourth quarters to beat the Dons, 62-59, at J.R. Richards Gym on Friday night.

“We’re a good team,” said Gabrielino coach John Carney. “We’ve got a lot of seniors that have gone through the playoffs for the last couple of years. That’s our leadership of the group, so it’s nothing new to them. They’re just showing up and they’ve been doing it all year.

“And now it’s time for them to actually play schools that don’t know us and show them what we can do.”

Luke Zuffelato of Santa Barbara led all scorers with 28 points. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo).
Luke Zuffelato of Santa Barbara led all scorers with 28 points. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo).

The Eagles (22-7) put four players in double figures with Darius Eslava scoring 14 points, Mike Otoguro 13, Trent Shimazaki 12 and Jordan Hum and Kyle Chung with 10 apiece.

Zuffelato led all scorers with 28 points and Tobin Shyrock had 11 for the Dons (17-12).

Santa Barbara coach Corey Adam said Gabrielino’s past playoff experience was a factor in the game.

“That team was senior-laden. They played hard, helped on (defense),  and played really hard on Luke,” he said. “What our guys can learn is that big-game experience, how you’re going to lighten up or how you’re going to take that deep breath when necessary.

“There were times we could have taken a deep breath just to relax ourselves and we didn’t do it. And that just comes from not being in that situation before. They’ll be better.”

With no player taller than 6-foot-2, Gabrielino played an uptempo game, moved well off the ball and made shots.

When the Dons went up by nine (37-28) in the third quarter, the Eagles went on a 13-5 run to pull within one (42-41).

“Credit to them,” said Adam. “They hit shots we wanted them to take. They hit those shots with a hand in their face. Guys were fading away and hitting. Three different guys pull up and hit mid-range (shots) from 12 to 15 feet with a hand in their face. Our defense wasn’t bad.”

Shimazaki and Ortoguro hit back-to-back three-pointers to bring the Eagles even at 49-49 with 6:10 left in the fourth quarter.

After Santa Barbara misfired on a three and Zuffelato missed on a tough drive in the paint, Ortoguro drove for a basket to give Gabrielino a 51-49 lead.

Zuffelato scored in the low post to tie the score and converted a three-point play after a great drive to put the Dons up by three, 54-51.

Shimazaki tied the score at 55 on a pair of free throws, and the Eagles took the lead for good (58-55) when Eslava buried a three at the 1:45 mark following a Santa Barbara turnover.

“Unfortunately, we had more careless turnovers and unforced turnovers that we shouldn’t have,” said Adam.

Battle fed Owen Debusk for a layup to make it a one-point game with 1:25 left.

The Dons got the ball back when Zuffelato blocked a drive by Otoguro. But Kyle Chung stole the ball for the Eagles and Eslava was fouled with 39 seconds to go and made both free throws for a 60-57 lead.

Zuffelato missed a three with 25 seconds to go and the Dons fouled Nathan Kan. He sank one of two free throws to make it 61-57.

Battle grabbed an airball and scored, and the Dons fouled Shimazaki with 1.7 seconds left. He made his first free throw and missed the second, and Santa Barbara rebounded and called timeout, down 62-59.

Debusk threw a long inbound pass to Zuffelato, who was double teamed. As he tried to pull up for a game-tying three-pointer, Eslava knocked the ball out of his hands as the buzzer sounded.

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Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

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