Members of the Anzar High boys basketball team—all seven of them—drove in separate cars to San Jose Tuesday for their Central Coast Section Division V playoff opener against St. Thomas More. What many high school sports teams take for granted—being able to use a bus for transportation—isn’t always afforded to the Hawks.
If you’re looking for a truly remarkable underdog story, look no further than the San Juan Bautista school. Unseeded Anzar proved to be superior against the No. 10 seed Knights, using a second-half surge to pull away for a 56-41 victory. The Hawks (12-7) play their old league rival, No. 7 seed Oakwood (14-7), on Thursday in a second-round game.
“I’m so happy for the seniors because we did not think we were going to make CCS,” Anzar coach Tavo Indarose said. “To get on the road and beat a team at their place feels really good. I know the guys are happy, and I’m happy for them. But we have to forget about this at midnight, because we have another game Thursday.”
Indarose has brought a certain toughness, swagger and quality of play to his alma mater. A 2008 Anzar graduate, Indarose has instilled in his players a belief that they can achieve at a high level, despite not having the resources of most other schools. Rex Ward certainly played with that belief and confidence.
The senior forward scored 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, allowing the Hawks to pull away. The 6-foot-1 Ward scored 13 points in the third quarter, hitting four times from 3-point range and connecting on a number of running floaters in the lane to fluster St. Thomas More.
“I felt like I had to do something for the team,” he said. “I had to step up my game. I’m just in the moment enjoying this win. This is good for us.”
Indarose was effusive in his praise for Ward—and that means a lot considering the third-year Anzar coach doesn’t heap praise upon someone just for the sake of doing it. Ward deserved the plaudits after his performance.
“Rex is tireless, super aggressive and it’s really good to have a player like him because you can always reference to the other guys on how to be competitive,” Indarose said. “The biggest competitors show up all the time, and he does that. When guys are fading away, you can always look to him.”
Ward wasn’t the only Anzar player to hit big shots. The Hawks trailed 10-6 after the first quarter before unleashing a 15-6 second-quarter spurt. At different points in the game, Bo Canepa (13 points), Carlos Bracho (8 points) and Hector Jimenez (7 points) made some clutch shots whenever the team needed it.
The Hawks used the Knights’ overaggressive defense to their advantage, often dribbling by the defenders to score a number of baskets off runners in the lane. The dribble penetration also led to open 3-point shots, with Ward being the beneficiary as he finished 4 for 7 from beyond the arc.
The Hawks have done nothing but overcome obstacles to achieve one of their finest moments in program history. For instance, Indarose has had to be creative when it comes to running practices, as the team cannot run a 5-on-5 scrimmage.
“We play games twice a week, and that’s the only 5 on 5 we get,” he said. “In practices, I have the guys do a lot of skill work to try to simulate a 5 on 5 as best as I can. It comes down to me yelling a lot and making them get every detail as close as we can to the actual game. These guys have never batted an eye on any weird drill I had them do to make up for us having less than 10 players. I’m just amazed on how they show up and play games.”
Make no mistake: Although Anzar’s players are scrappy, they have some talent as well. Diego Bracho has incredible dribbling skills, while Elijah Rosa and Jacob Lindholm have made strong contributions as well. Ward said it’s fun playing for a coach who is invested in his players, has deep knowledge for the game and inspires on a daily basis.
“He likes to get us pumped up,” Ward said. “He’s just a really good coach for us. He takes things seriously, and we all have a drive individually and as a team to do our best.”
Anzar went from being a bubble team to earning a victory in the CCS tournament.
“I thought our season was over, and then you learn (on Sunday night) you get a chance to practice again,” Indarose said. “We’re super excited and happy to get a chance to extend our season.”
Anzar shot 19 for 36 from the field, or 52.8 percent. That is an incredible number considering most high school teams shoot below 50 percent on the average. Unlike a lot of other teams, Anzar literally uses everyone on its roster to the max—it has to. A bench that goes only two deep means Indarose needs to unearth the maximum potential out of all of his players. Tuesday, he did just that.