Palumbo and McCracken sounds more like a law office than a lethal inside-out high school basketball combination.
Well, Foothill’s Josiah Palumbo and Brandon McCracken served Shasta notice it was, after a few stumbles down the stretch, still the team to beat in the Northern Section Division III postseason as the Cougars ended the regular season with a 69-58 win over the Wolves. The victory all but secures the No. 1 seed in the upcoming playoffs and send the Wolves (16-12, 3-7 Eastern Athletic League) to the No. 5 slot where they’re headed for a fifth showdown with rival Enterprise.
Palumbo set the tone early for the Cougars (24-4, 8-2 EAL), scoring 11 in the opening period to stake the hosts to an 18-10 after one period on Silent Night. From the onset, it looked like the mulleted point guard might hit the magic 10 number to send the crowd into a frenzy as he opened the game with two free throws and followed with a pair of 3-pointers.
Luke Lindsey would actually hit the 10th point, but Palumbo added a third 3-ball near the end of the period.
“He’s so tough to stay in front of and he’s also probably our best defender,” Foothill coach Bill Elliott said. “Put those two together and he’s a tough cover. You try to help on him and he’s going to find someone open.”
The teams played even in the second period as Foothill took that eight-point edge into the locker room up 31-23.
But it was McCracken’s low-post presence that helped the Cougars’ keep the Wolves at bay. The 6-foot-8 senior had five offensive rebounds in the second period and four points.
And that’s the trouble game-planning against Elliott’s crew – focus on Palumbo and McCracken gets loose; take away the big fella and Lindsey and Bekdoo Lewis are waiting to pounce.
The two opened the third period with a track meet as points registered fast and furious.
Lewis, who had a game-high 17 points, opened things with a low-post bucket before Shasta’s Armal Dhinsa answered with a 3-pointer off an assist from Jacob Singleton.
Lindsey hit a 15-footer, which was countered by Dhinsa’s 12-footer. Palumbo looked to give Foothill a boost with his fourth 3-pointer of the night, but the Wolves countered with a transition bucket from Dilraj Sahota, who then took a charge on the next Foothill possession and Singleton found the deuce with an up-and-under on the next time down the court to cut the lead to 38-32.
“The EAL is like this every night,” Elliott said.
But for every potential run Shasta tried to make, the Cougars had an answer, finishing the period on a 12-6 spurt to lead 50-38 entering the fourth.
“It always felt like we were one or two stops away, especially early in that third quarter, from turning the tide,” Shasta coach Jordan Freilich said. “As we know, when you get down double-digits early, it gets harder and harder to get back in the game (the deeper it goes).”
Lewis and Lindsey – again a perfectly good law firm name – opened the fourth before JT Beasley answered with a 4-0 run of his own. On his second bucket an foul was called on Foothill after the shot, giving the Wolves the ball again. Dhinsa was fouled on that possession, hitting the two freebies to cut the lead to 55-44.
But the Cougars kept getting defensive stops and forcing turnovers to keep Shasta at arm’s length.
After a Shasta turnover with just over 5 to play, Palumbo showed why he might be the best pure point in the section. He ran through the offense, purposely bleeding clock with a 13-point lead. And as the shot clock hit 12, he weaved through traffic and fired a dime to Lindsey from the elbow as three Shasta defenders collapsed. Lindsey, on the left wing, caught the ball in rhythm and, as the defense rotated to him, fired a strike to McCracken on the block for an easy bucket.
The win almost assuredly gives the Cougars the No. 1 seed when brackets are announced Saturday morning. Foothill is 8-2 in league and shared the league crown with Chico, but should hold the edge as league finish is the first criteria before moving on to others such as overall record and strength of schedule.
The loss drops Shasta to 3-7 in EAL play and likely sets up the fifth meeting between the Wolves and Enterprise, at Manatowa Gymnasium for the fourth time this season.
“It’s the playoffs; everyone’s 0-0,” Freilich said. “It’s survive and advance.”
Shasta – 10-13-15-20- 58
Foothill – 18-13-19-19- 69
Wolves (16-12, 3-7) – Weaver 2, Turner 8, Sahota 9, Dhinsa 11, Singleton 13, Beasley 15.
Cougars (24-4, 8-2) – Edwards 2, Jensen 3, Dore 6, McCracken 12, Lindsey 13, Palumbo 16, Lewis 17.
3-pointers – SHS – 2: Singleton, Dhinsa; FHS – 6: Jensen, Lewis, Palumbo (4).
Shasta 56, Foothill 48
Much like the Shasta and Enterprise boys have spent a chunk of the season playing each other, the Foothill girls and their Wolves counterpart have squared off three times thus far.
After an eight-point Shasta win, it looks like the teams will meet for a fourth time in the opening round of the Northern Section D-III playoffs as the win gives the Wolves a 5-5 mark in EAL play, while Foothill sits at 4-6.
Since teams can’t be seeded out of league finish, it means the fourth go-round will be at Harlan Carter Gymnasium.
“We knew if we won that we’d get the home court and that’s what the girls were playing for,” Shasta coach Alicia Dahl said.
In an ironic twist, the Wolves will be the fourth seed, the Cougars the No. 5 seed. Both sit behind third-seed Chico, which beat Shasta twice and lost to Foothill twice.
On Friday, the Cougars and Wolves battled evenly throughout the first half, with Shasta clinging to a 26-23 lead at intermission as Ava Jackson pumped in 10 of her game-high 23 points.
“We knew that Ava was going to be a huge threat and that was the goal – to stop her,” Foothill coach Stephanie Ahluwalia said. “I had girls coming up and asking “Do you want a guard taking her or a post taking her?” and I said “someone better get her because she can play both positions. She’s just an all-around threat.”
And while Jackson is usually more of a threat from distance, the Shasta senior hit two triples in the first half and one in the second, scoring 14 points inside the arc.
Foothill, down the entire first half, took its first lead on an Amber Wallace 3-pointer near the start of the third period as both teams jockeyed for lead throughout the quarter. Shasta ended the quarter on a 5-1 run and led 34-29 heading into the final stanza.
Shasta opened the fourth on a 12-2 run as Katie Poletski hit a free throw to open the scoring and Jackson hit two of three free throws on the next possession after being fouled while shooting from range as Hayden Toney picked up her fifth one minute into the quarter.
Poletski added and-one to boost the lead to 40-29 before Jackson spotted up and hit from deep. Jackson and Julianna Flores each hit buckets sandwiched around a Wallace score as Shasta led 47-31 with 4:40 to play.
But the Wolves started playing quickly and the Cougars countered with an 11-0 run over three minutes to cut the edge to 47-42 with just under two minutes to play.
“It was a roller coast,” Dahl said. “I think we got the jitters. We had the lead, J (Flores) offensively was starting to go off and instead of attacking we started bounce-passing.”
But the Wolves hit 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch to preserve the win and grab home-court advantage.
“They wanted home court and worked for it,” Dahl said.
Shasta – 13-11-10-22- 56
Foothill – 9-14-6-19- 48
Wolves (15-10, 5-5) – Woods 2, Giacomelli 3, Patton 4, Poletski 5, Flores 7, Rodriguez 12, Jackson 23.
Cougars (12-12, 4-6) – Williford 3, Padilla 3, Loewen 4, Mitchell 4, Toney 5, Matthews 6, Wallace 9, Roach 14.
3-pointers – SHS – 4: Giacomelli, Jackson (3); FHS – 4: Wallace, Mitchell, Roach, Toney.