Sophomore Luke Zuffelato led all scorers with 28 points. | Credit: ENTENZA

Experience matters in high school basketball, and the Dons learned some tough lessons on Friday night.

Visiting Gabrielino High dominated the fourth quarter and captured a 62-59 come-from-behind victory over Santa Barbara in the second round of the CIF-SS Division 4AA playoffs.

“They had three different guys hitting pull-up mid-range from 12-15 feet with a hand in their face fading away from the basket,” said Santa Barbara High coach Corey Adam. “I tell the guys that’s what we want teams to shoot, and credit to them they made them.”

Santa Barbara is a team led by sophomores, and Gabrielino is composed primarily of seniors. The difference in poise down the stretch was a determining factor in the outcome.

“We’re a good team. We have a lot of seniors that have gone through the playoffs the last couple years and that’s the leadership of the group,” said Gabrielino coach John Carney. “It’s nothing new to them. They’re just showing up. They’ve been doing it all year.”

The first half was close throughout. Luke Zuffelato drained a three-pointer with five seconds remaining in the first quarter to give Santa Barbara a 13-9 lead. A driving layup inside plus the foul by Zuffelato early in the second quarter gave the Dons their largest lead of the half, 18-14, but Gabrielino quickly responded with a three-pointer by Kyle Chung that cut the deficit to 18-17.

Santa Barbara took a 27-26 lead into the locker room at halftime and opened the third quarter on a 10-2 run capped off by a Zuffelato three-pointer with just more than six minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Gabrielino was not deterred by the deficit. The Eagles mounted a 9-2 run and cut the deficit to 39-37 on a mid-range jumper by Mike Otoguro. 

A corner three-pointer by Santa Barbara forward Will Harmon increased the Santa Barbara lead to 47-41 with 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

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Gabrielino took its first lead of the second half on a driving layup by Otoguro with 4:52 remaining in the fourth quarter. However, Zuffelato responded with five straight points, including a three-point play that put Santa Barbara ahead 54-51 at the four minute mark of the fourth quarter.

Gabrielino’s Darius Eslava knocked down a three-pointer with just more than a minute remaining that put Gabrielino ahead 58-55. The Eagles converted six-of-eight free throws in the final two minutes as Santa Barbara picked up the pressure.

“A lot of these guys have been starters since their sophomore year,” said Carney of his team. “They have a lot of experience playing and hitting big shots over the last three years. Now it’s kind of being seen by other people.”

Trailing 62-59 with 1.6 seconds remaining, Santa Barbara sent a heave into the front court that was gathered by Zuffelato, who was stripped of the ball as he went up for a three-pointer to tie the game just before the buzzer.

Zuffelato was stunned in disbelief at no foul call on the play as Gabrielino erupted in celebration.

Five Gabrielino players reached double figure scoring led by Eslava, who finished with 14 points. Zuffelato led all scorers with 28 points. Tobin Shyrock added 11 points and Harmon scored seven points. 

“There were times we could have taken a deep breath just to relax ourselves and we didn’t really do it. That just comes from not being in the situation before,” Adam said. “They’ll be better.”

Cate, 60; Santa Ana, 56

The Rams traveled into a hostile environment and survived a furious rally by Santa Ana in the closing minutes to pick up the victory.

Babacar Pouye led the way with 21 points. Jengus Ercil added 16 points, including four three-pointers. Cate will travel to Long Beach Jordan on Tuesday for the quarterfinals.

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