Hoops: Tonascia is holding down the paint

San Benito's Jacob Tonascia.

For as long as he could remember leading up to his freshman year at San Benito High, Jacob Tonascia was going to be a football and baseball player.

With baseball as his main sport, in middle school Tonascia decided to follow his friends and try his hand at basketball. The always tall Tonascia – he is listed at 6-foot, 4-inches – quickly started to show his dominance on the floor.

After his freshman year on the court, he was now a baseball and basketball player.

“I thought I was going to be a football or baseball player only but my freshman year I started playing and I played pretty well,” he said. “I stuck with it and I liked it. I just always really enjoyed it. It’s a fun sport. It’s really fast paced. I think that’s mainly what I like it.”

Now in his third year on the varsity basketball team, Tonascia, a senior, is starting to fulfill his potential on both sides of the floor. He has averaged nearly 14 points per game – eight more than a year ago – while leading the Balers on the defensive end.

Leading the Balers to a 9-2 record, the reigning Tri-County Athletic League baseball Most Valuable Player is starting to make just as big of a mark on the basketball court. Through the season’s first 11 games, Tonascia is one of the Balers’ biggest keys to success, head coach David Kaplansky said earlier this year.

“We put such a big stress on the paint this year because of his confidence in practice,” Kaplansky said. “He is a third year guy and it’s really showing. He is off to a fantastic start.”

For Tonascia, his success starts with working hard through tough practices while still finding time to have fun.

“I think we started playing basketball to have fun,” he said. “That’s one of the hardest things to remember. When we are in practice for two hours we are ultimately playing because we love the sport. Our team, we have such a great time hanging out. I really think that helps us because we all play really well. We get along together off the court.”

And it has translated onto the court for the Balers as they enter into the league season in January.

“It all starts in practice,” Tonascia said. “We all feel we work so hard so we deserve this record. It’s really kind of nice to know we work our butts off every day … Our easiest days are game days. Practice is a lot harder than game day.”

As a three-year starter and team leader, Tonascia wants to help the younger players learn from his development on the floor, he said. After slowly getting used to the game speed – while becoming stronger – Tonascia is an example of learning and growing as a basketball player.

“I remember starting my sophomore year, that was probably my hardest year because I wasn’t used to the game speed,” Tonascia said. “I wasn’t as strong as the other centers. Last year, I took more of defensive role than an offensive role. This year, it is all kind of coming together.”

As one of six seniors, Tonascia is comfortable among the team leaders.

“We have great captains on our team in Michael (Breen), Robert (Henderson) and (Brian) Becerra,” Tonascia said. “It’s fun to see the younger guys really look up to us. It means a lot to know that we help them get better.”

But the added benefit of basketball is seen on the baseball diamond. After spending months running up and down the court, Tonascia is in great shape for his No. 1 sport.

“I think it helps a lot,” he said. “Because I’m always out there working. A lot of guys don’t do anything. Me and Michael (Breen) play basketball and stay in really good shape for baseball. We are always conditioned. But on the other side we are always going to CCS and playing pretty late into the season so we always miss a couple of games. That’s a pretty good trade off.”

After losing twice in the season’s first three weeks, Tonascia expects to miss a few more baseball games this winter. And that’s okay.

“We are playing really well right now,” he said. “We have a balanced attack this year and we are playing a little bit harder.”

The Balers return to the court at 7 p.m. Jan. 2 against Watsonville.

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