Wildcats coach Nick Ward is overcome with emotion after their 58-54 win over Menlo-Atherton High in the Central Coast Section Division I championship game on Feb. 24 at Santa Clara High. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

At some point in the playoffs, a game comes down to free throws.

It’s not sexy, it doesn’t grab the headlines, but knocking down free throws can be the difference between earning a historic victory or coming up just short. For the Los Gatos High boys basketball team, that moment came in the crucible of the Central Coast Section Division I playoff championship game against Menlo-Atherton High on Feb. 24.  

Scotty Brennan’s two free throws with 13.9 seconds left put the No. 2 seed Wildcats ahead to stay for good in their 58-54 win over the top-seed Bears at Santa Clara High. 

“I guess we do practice free throws,” Los Gatos coach Nick Ward deadpanned. “We practice free throws everyday, we tell the guys all the time you have to put that moment through your head. Big moment, big pressure, the shot’s the same. It’s all thinking your way through it. And we knocked them down when it mattered.”

Did they ever. Los Gatos went 23-for-28 from the free throw line, earning nearly twice as many points from the charity stripe as Menlo-Atherton, which finished 12-for-23. Brennan and Nolan Koch finished with 16 points each, and Osha Moloney, Anthony Martin and Max Brin added eight points apiece. 

After the Bears tied the game at 54-54 with 36.5 seconds remaining, Brennan drew a foul at the top of the key as he went to his right to avoid the double team. An excellent free throw shooter, Brennan calmly drained both free throws for the game-winning points. Menlo-Atherton missed a 14-foot jump shot on the ensuing possession, Los Gatos secured the rebound with 3.5 seconds to go and Martin made two free throws to account for the final margin. 

By virtue of their title game win, the Wildcats (21-6) advance to play in the CIF State Northern California playoffs. 

They received the No. 13 seed in the Division II tournament and play at No. 4 Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland on Feb. 27 (this edition went to press before the start of the game). Whatever happens, the 2023-2024 Los Gatos team has already stamped its place in program history. 

This was Los Gatos’ second CCS championship, both under Ward, who led the 2017-2018 squad to a 75-58 win over Piedmont Hills in the D-I championship game. This year’s team had to adjust on the fly, as it was already a month into the season before players from the football team—including Brennan—were able to join practice.

That’s because the football team made a historic run of its own, advancing to its first-ever CIF State Championship Bowl Game. Despite not having its full roster at the start of the season, all the Wildcats did was win a third consecutive SCVAL title, the last two in the upper De Anza Division. 

“I’m so proud of these guys for the work they’ve done,” Ward said. “Any time you win, it’s really special. The work these guys did, I commend them. We lost a lot of talented guys last year and these kids have bought in from the spring and throughout the summer. And it was a work in progress. The football guys, they didn’t come out until Dec. 10, so we’re still getting better. That’s what I keep telling the guys, Scotty is now just hitting his stride. It’s amazing.”

Los Gatos was coming off a riveting 82-80 overtime win over Santa Teresa in the semifinals, and everyone expected another barnburner in the championship game. However, Los Gatos threatened to run away with it early, jumping out to a 26-11 lead on a Brin 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 15 seconds left in the first quarter. 

M-A closed the quarter with six consecutive points, then outscored Los Gatos 20-12 in the third to basically draw even entering the fourth quarter. In the third, the Bears’ John Anderson outscored the Wildcats all by himself, 14-12. 

Ward had a simple message for his team as it huddled for the start of the fourth quarter. 

“Just settle down,” he said. “It was all noise. We’ve got teams that made shots against us before. It’s all noise from the outside. Just focus inside the blue lines, focus on the five in the court, anybody in a black jersey. That’s all that matters. Of course they’re going to make a punch. That’s a really good team over there. I wouldn’t expect them to just go out with their head down. That’s a really good team. If they don’t get injured in the middle of the season, they go in the Open Division. They’re that good. So, just proud of the kids for battling and competing.”

The game featured seven ties and 14 lead changes, which is normally remarkable save for the fact that Los Gatos’ previous contest vs. Santa Teresa had 10 ties and 22 lead changes. In the end, the ’Cats made a play or two more than their opponents in the semifinal and final. 

That included Koch making a nice spin move to the baseline that led to a lay-in after he saw the double team coming from the elbow area.

Wildcats senior Max Brin hits one of his two 3-pointers during their 58-54 win over Menlo-Atherton in the CCS D-I title game. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Ronan Chinmulgund hoists up the CCS first-place trophy after Los Gatos beat Menlo-Atherton for the CCS D-I championship. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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