Cezar Guerrero eventually got his points, but Atascadero High got the win.
The Greyhounds won their 15th game in a row Tuesday night, defeating St. John Bosco of Bellflower and its nationally ranked point guard, Guerrero, 60-47, moving on to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA boys basketball playoffs.
For the Greyhounds, it’s the first trip to the semifinal round since the 2002-03 season. After the game, Atascadero students stormed the court.
“Live for the moment right now,” Atascadero guard Troy Norris said after being let out of the postgame mob, “but I’m just waiting until the next game.”
Norris, a 5-foot-10 senior, was at the center of the celebration after scoring a team-best 24 points.
“It always feels great,” Norris said. “We have really great fans, and it feels good that they appreciate us this much.”
It was just the latest step in one of the most successful runs by a local boys basketball team in years, coming on the heels of a 12-0 PAC 7 season — the league’s first undefeated mark since 2005-06.
“It’s real special, because an Atascadero team hasn’t done this in a while,” Norris said. “Not even a Central Coast team has done this in a while. It feels real good for it to be us.”
Ewing Gym was so packed early on that Atascadero’s P.A. speaker had to urge those already seated to make room for people still filing in.
Eventually the crowd maxed out with people taking up space wherever they could find it, sitting in stairways or standing along the corners of the floor.
Given the magnitude of the moment, nerves were a factor early, as both squads came out misfiring, with Atascadero leading 9-5 after the first quarter.
“I think there definitely was,” Atascadero senior center Sean Slavin said when asked if there were jitters at the start. “We just couldn’t hit our shots.”
It definitely went both ways, though. By halftime, with the Greyhounds up 20-13, Guerrero, who came in averaging 27.9 points, had been held to four.
“I just think our team defense was outstanding,” Atascadero coach Jerry Tamelier said. “We never let them establish any kind of rhythm and kind of kept (Guerrero), I think, a little frustrated early.”
Guerrero, a 6-foot senior for the fourth-seeded Braves (21-9), has offers from the likes of Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia, among numerous other national Division I powers.
But the fifth-seeded Greyhounds (25-3) contained him for much of the night, before he finally found his groove late, putting up 26 of his 30 points in the second half, including 16 in the final quarter, when he started bombing at will and hit a trio of 3-pointers.
But Atascadero kept its poise throughout.
“Just to be in this spot, it feels great,” Slavin said. “Our team is just playing really well.”
On the last play of the third quarter, Norris broke free on an inbound pass, soaring to the basket for an alley-oop layup to beat the buzzer for a 37-29 lead heading into the fourth.
With just under six minutes remaining, a jumper by Norris — who was serenaded with “MVP” chants — gave Atascadero its biggest lead of the night at 45-29.
“The thing about this ball club,” Tamelier said, “is down the stretch they tend to make the plays.”
Hayden Mislavsky had 17 points for the Greyhounds from his guard spot, and small forward Robert Berwick added eight points.
In the semifinals, Atascadero will take on top-seeded Orange Lutheran at Villa Park High, Tamelier said, a designated neutral site after Orange Lutheran won a Southern Section coin flip, at 7 p.m. Friday.
Orange Lutheran has a pair of Division I recruits in its backcourt, as well, in Northern Arizona-bound point guard James Douglas and higher-rated junior shooting guard Gabe York, who has offers from multiple Pac-10 programs.
“It’ll certainly be another challenge for us,” Tamelier said. “I believe in this team. I think Troy said it after — I forget who we beat here — he said, ‘We could play with anybody.’ And we can.”