Gage Antonio didn’t let two open 3-point misses in the first quarter of Arroyo Grande’s CIF-Southern Section Division 3A playoff game derail his shooting night. Instead, the senior went on to hit four 3-pointers on the way to 18 points while also grabbing five rebounds and hitting four free throws in the fourth quarter to down West Covina 57-43 on Wednesday night.
“After I missed the first two (3-pointers) that I had wide open, I had to hit something,” Antonio said. “We missed a lot of open shots, but hey, we hit them down the stretch.”
Antonio said his sweet spot from beyond the arc is the wing, but his teammates found him in the corner more often than not.
Antonio is far from the only Eagle who can hit from long range, as West Covina quickly learned. Three other Arroyo Grande players hit at least one 3-pointer, as the Eagles — the third-place team from the PAC 8 — finished 10 of 25 from distance.
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West Covina (15-13), the third-place team from the Hacienda League, came out in a zone defense, meaning the Eagles had to rely on crisp ball movement to break it down.
“It’s always scary when you see a zone like that because if you shoot well, life’s good. But if you don’t, your season could be over,” Eagles head coach Ryan Glanville said.
They were successful, as the scrambling Bulldogs were unable to stop Arroyo Grande from finding the open man.
“I love it,” Antonio said on facing zone defense. “You find the gaps, and you get open shots.”
Like Antonio, senior Patrick Angle hit four free throws in the fourth quarter and finished with 12 points and a pair of steals. The Eagles finished the game shooting 13 of 14 from the free-throw line.
AJ Panetta added nine points, and Will Silmon, Zach Bullard and Jacob Soriano each had six points.
While Antonio and Angle were leading the offense, the task of stopping West Covina’s star, Nick Hart, fell to Silmon. Hart, a 6-foot-1 guard, averaged 30.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.6 steals for the year. Earlier this season, he posted a triple-double of 40 points, 32 rebounds and 10 assists.
“Will has had some pretty tough assignments in our league where we’ve asked him to shut down some pretty good players,” Glanville said.
The lanky, 6-foot-4 senior held Hart to 21 points — six from the free-throw line — and kept Hart largely on the perimeter until the fourth quarter. Eleven of Hart’s points came in the first quarter, capped by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Hart scored just four points in the final frame.
“There’s a lot of good offensive players in our league,” Silmon said. “So I definitely think that helped me get ready for this game to play against a player as good as Nick Hart was.”
The Eagles behind Silmon swarmed to ball, forcing steals, jump balls and frustrating the Bulldogs.
“We emphasized a lot of help defense (the past week), so if I got blown by, guys were usually there to help me out,” Silmon said.
Arroyo Grande held West Covina scoreless in the second quarter and held a 13-point lead in the third quarter, before the Bulldogs closed the gap to 40-38 with five minutes left in the fourth. West Covina then missed shot after shot and turned the ball over repeatedly as Arroyo Grande pulled away.
Arroyo Grande held the size advantage inside — only one West Covina player stood above 6-1 to Arroyo Grande’s five. The size helped prevent second-chance opportunities, especially late in the game.
The Eagles (17-11) will play at Twentynine Palms (23-3) in a second-round game Friday.