Fans caught up in the frenzy surrounding the San Marin High boys basketball team know the drill now: If you want to see the best team in the school’s 43-year history continue its amazing run, you have to get to the gym early.
On Saturday, the Mustangs play host to the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons — a team San Marin beat on March 2 — in a CIF Northern California Division III semifinal game. Although it’s a home game for the Mustangs, it won’t take place in Hank Moroski Gymnasium on the San Marin campus because at about 1,000 seats it is deemed too small. The game will be played in the gym at Redwood High in Larkspur, which fits closer to 1,500.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and tipoff is at 7. Judging by the line that formed as early as 5 p.m. for San Marin’s victory over Center High of Antelope on Thursday night, fans are advised to beat the rush and get down to Larkspur plenty early.
“It will fill quick,” said San Marin coach Craig Pitti, who with his staff has led the team to Marin County Athletic League and North Coast Section Division III championships over the past few weeks.
"We know this will sellout very early again,” he added. “I can't begin to express my gratitude on behalf of our entire team for the support we are receiving from the community. I have never seen anything like it. My players are truly blown away by the attention they have received.”
The Mustangs are fresh of their first CIF State Tournament win and have drawn the task of slaying the Dragons a second time if they are to play in next Saturday's CIF NorCal Championship Game.
"The new state format allows all semifinalists in their section playoffs a spot in the state tournament,” Pitti said. “We knew there was a good chance we could see O'Dowd again. Certainly beating a great team like them twice in one season seems pretty incomprehensible, but if we stick to our game plan and execute well, hopefully we can have a chance at the end just like last time."
Last time was a 51-46 upset some consider one of the biggest upsets in Marin basketball history. The Mustangs were down 26-12 midway through the second quarter on their home court and still came back to beat the No. 1 ranked Division III school in California.
"The hope is we did some things poorly that night and found a way to win,” Pitti said. “We couldn't drop a jump shot and we got off to a terrible start trying to settle our nerves. I don't think we will be lucky to have that happen again. We will need to drop open shots and must play a complete 32 minutes.”
The Mustangs persevered through a dismal shooting night only to break through on a Chris Glennon 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left to give the Mustangs their first lead of the game — a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Mustangs hit 9 of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the upset.
“There is no doubt O'Dowd on paper is overwhelming,” Pitti said. “The key to our success though is our ability to beat teams with our team play. Individually we can't match up. Sticking to the game plan and playing smart as a team gives us a chance to stay close and steal one at the end."
O'Dowd advanced to Saturday's Division III semifinal with a 74-61 victory over Sacred Heart Cathedral. The Dragons had balanced scoring with shooting guard Anders Haas and power forward Richard Longrus each putting in 14 points, and star center Brandon Ashley followed up with 13.
Revenge will be on the Dragons’ agenda Saturday, and Pitti and the Mustangs know it.
"We know O'Dowd will come out swinging, but we are one of four teams left in Northern California,” the coach said. “You have to either move on or move out at this point. We'll be ready.
“ … We hope we can move on for everyone, but regardless of the outcome this community helped make it all happen."