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(Having) A Blast From the North

Boys' basketball: Hillsdale's wild ride has resulted in a 30-0 record and a date with mighty Harvard-Westlake in today's state Division III final.

March 22, 1997|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Peter Pontacq, one of San Mateo Hillsdale High's unheralded, unbeaten basketball players, is undaunted by the prospect of facing Harvard-Westlake and the ultra-heralded Collins twins today at 3 p.m. in the state Division III final at the Pond.

What's one more week on the roller coaster?

Two weeks ago, Pontacq was blistering hot, scoring 15 points in the first half of the Knights' Central Coast Section final. Next thing he knows, he's hobbling on a sprained ankle. A trainer wraps it tightly and he finishes with 22 points in a 63-58 victory over Los Gatos.

Afterward, Pontacq drives to Chabot College to watch the team his father coaches, Skyline College, play in the junior college regional. He sits with a coughing coach from Hawaii there to scout the game and contracts a particularly nasty strain of flu.

Hobbling and shivering, Pontacq heads to the parking lot after the game. His car is gone. Stolen. It's found a few days later completely stripped, and he never recovers the uniform and shoes he'd left on the seat.

With aching muscles in a borrowed uniform, Pontacq played all 32 minutes of last week's 59-51 victory over Sacramento Foothill in the Northern California Regional semifinals. Hillsdale (30-0) beat Arcata, 61-42, in the final.

So, while the team has won every game, the season hasn't gone perfectly.

Nor do many believe it will end perfectly.

Hillsdale, with no player taller than 6 feet 4, is a decided underdog against Harvard-Westlake (35-1), ranked No. 5 in the nation behind 6-10 Jason and 6-9 Jarron Collins.

"I'm very impressed by Harvard-Westlake," Hillsdale Coach Bill Wilkin said. "Nobody up here has heard of them, but I know better. Obviously, I'd say for us to win would be a major upset."

Hillsdale's strengths are experience and unselfishness. The top seven players are seniors and the scoring averages of the starting five range from nine to 14 points.

The Knights employ a three-guard lineup and are expected to press on defense and spread the floor on offense against Harvard-Westlake, which was at least mildly annoyed by the second-half pressure of San Diego University High in last week's Southern California Regional final before winning, 47-40.

"We get points off our pressure," Wilkin said. "Then at the other end, we spread the floor. Not so much to stall, but to take advantage of the ability of the people we have."

Point guard Travis Kertel (5-9) is the ball-handler and 6-foot guards Tariq Chaney and Pontacq are good three-point shooters.

Center Arjuna Manning-Laisne (6-4) is an excellent leaper who leads the Knights in scoring and rebounding. Tyrone Robinson (6-0) and Ben Dondero (6-4) split time at forward, and Fred Peccorini is a defensive specialist.

None are Division I prospects, according to Wilkin, in his 26th year as Hillsdale's coach. His teams have won eight league championships, but this is the school's first visit to the state tournament.

"They've been playing together since grade school," he said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Hillsdale (30-0)

Season in Review

90 Palo Alto Gunn 26

86 San Francisco University 52

83 San Jose Archbishop Mitty 51

80 San Francisco South 53

72 San Francisco Burton 61

81 Daly City Westmoor 63

74 Daly City Westmoor 47

74 Pacifica Terra Nova 50

77 South San Francisco 58

48 Santa Cruz 39

69 Woodside 61

52 San Mateo 42

69 Millbrae Mills 43

96 Redwood City Sequoia 57

72 San Bruno Capuchino 58

70 Belmont Carlmont 54

79 San Mateo Aragon 65

62 Menlo Atherton 55

71 San Mateo 59

65 Burlingame 39

46 San Bruno Capuchino 44

79 Belmont Carlmont 67

67 San Mateo Aragon 53

PLAYOFFS

83 Santa Cruz Harbor 53

62 Palo Alto 42

61 Santa Cruz 38

63 Los Gatos 58

76 Susanville Lassen 49

59 Sacramento Foothill 51

61 Arcata 42

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