Balers primed for league championship run

Senior guard Bryant Vasquez will play a key role handling the ball, playing tough defense and shooting from long distance for the Haybalers this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

San Benito High boys basketball coach Bo Buller was expecting the Haybalers football team to win a Central Coast Section championship and qualify for a state bowl game.

As such, he would be without the services of two of his hoops standouts—Tyler Pacheco and Jayden Freidt—until early December or possibly longer. But the Balers lost earlier than expected—a 45-35 defeat to Menlo School on a Friday night in mid-November—and Buller told the two standouts they could come to practice on the following Monday. 

“But they showed up at 10am the next morning (Saturday),” Buller said. “They wanted to get in the swing of things.”

It didn’t take long for Pacheco and Freidt to make an impact, but they’ve also got a solid supporting cast which should propel San Benito to its best season since 2013-2014, the last year it contended for a league championship and made the Central Coast Section playoffs.

All signs point to the Balers competing for a Pacific Coast League Mission Division title this season, as they’ve already recorded some impressive wins, including a 58-55 victory over Salinas in the Scattini Palma Tournament on Dec. 11. Freidt and Pacheco combined for 35 points, and Bryant Vasquez made three 3-pointers in the second half. 

“We’ll be able to score, but if we can guard people we can compete with anybody,” said Buller, whose team entered the week with a 6-2 record. “If we can stay in front of the opponents and rebound the ball like we did against Carmel, we’ll be able to put teams away.”

Athletic, strong and physical, Pacheco and Freidt can impose their will on the competition. 

“They are competitors and they make us better,” Buller said. “They’re pretty dominating athletically, and with their speed and strength they’re able to get to the rim. What they bring with their basketball IQ will propel us to do better as well.”

Vasquez, a senior guard, is lethal from 3-point range and handles the ball well.

“He can shoot the lights out and the guys have been able to feed off him,” Buller said. 

“Bryant is relentless on defense, super long, has a nose for the ball and if he makes his first shot, he’s not missing,” Freidt said. 

Junior center Jaiden Prado has also been a difference-maker, especially on the glass where he’s racked up several double-digit rebound games. Freshman point guard Chandler Crutcher has been earning raves from his coaches and teammates for his athleticism and wizardry with the basketball. 

“He’s almost a one-man press breaker,” Buller said. “Versus Alisal, Carmel and RLS which was full-court pressing, there hasn’t been a team able to slow him down. He’s a pretty special player and brings quickness, agility and a shiftiness in how he plays.”

Freidt also had tremendous things to say about Crutcher: “I think Chandler is going to be the best player to come out of San Benito. His IQ is off the chain and he’s ridiculously quick. He’s physical, locks up guys and is going to be really good.”

Junior Dominic Price has also been instrumental at the point and along with Crutcher acts as an extension of the coach on the court. 

“They’ve been a huge aid because of that,” Buller said. “They’re two quiet kids, but they’re finding their voice which has been a positive for us.”

Malaki Battle, a senior wing player, gives the team production off the bench as he’s able to contribute in a variety of ways.  

“Malaki is a jack of all trades player,” Buller said. “He picks up the game and is able to slide into anywhere we need him.”

Jassy Mudhar-Chavez, a 6-2 junior wing, continues to develop and grow into his role and is able to defend and rebound well, Buller said. Buller added senior Nico Gutierrez understands how to play within the flow of the team, can shoot it off the dribble and makes good decisions with the ball.

The Balers have had only one subpar performance this season, a 59-45 loss to a strong Alisal team on Dec. 4. However, they were playing their fourth game in five nights, a couple of key players got in foul trouble early and the wheels kind of fell off. However, Buller hopes the players learn from the experience and get stronger from it. 

“It was really good for our guys to hit adversity there and play against a good Gabilan Division team, because that is where we eventually want to be,” Buller said. “We have 3,400 kids (enrollment), so we should be in the Gabilan. But we want to build this program the right way.”

Tyler Pacheco rises up and shoots over a Carmel defender in a Dec. 7 non-league game. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Jayden Freidt powers to the basket in San Benito’s 68-47 win over Carmel. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Balers senior Dominic Price has been instrumental with his deft ball-handling skills. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at elee@weeklys.com and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.