It’s been seven long years since the San Benito High boys basketball team finished with a winning record. In that time, the Haybalers were demoted to the B division of the Pacific Coast League, a blow to a once proud program. But with a 4-3 record through seven games this season, San Benito has legitimate reason for optimism for the first time in a long time.
“We’re playing a lot better, and a lot of that has to do with gaining that extra year of experience,” said Tyler Pacheco, the junior point guard who leads the team in assists and has been instrumental with his ability to get to the basket off dribble penetration. “The chemistry of the team has really shown this year.”
Has it ever. Under first-year Balers coach Bo Buller, San Benito has won three out of its last four games, something it hasn’t accomplished since the 2013-14 team that finished 21-5 and lost to Bellarmine in the semifinals of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs. The high-octane backcourt of Pacheco and fellow junior Jayden Freidt gave Christopher all it could handle in the teams’ meeting earlier this season, a three-point CHS win.
Freidt and Pacheco both starred on the football team as well, and they’ve proven to be a dynamic duo on the hardwood. Freidt guards the opponent’s best player, and he possesses the ability to knock down shots from 3-point range. Freidt has connected for four or more 3-pointers in three games this season.
“When he gets hot, it’s something to see,” Buller said.
The coach said Pacheco has hurt opponents with his passing, especially when he gets to the lane, draws a crowd and kicks it out to the open shooters on the perimeter.
“Guys have been knocking down shots and leading the team in assists is pretty cool,” Pacheco said. “Whenever I’m on the court, I try to make all my teammates better. I’d rather pass to an open teammate than take a contested shot myself.”
Seniors Thomas Breen and Chase Freeman have also been instrumental to the team’s resurgence. Breen has played every position except center, testifying to his versatility. He’s the team’s third-leading scorer and is adept at driving to the basket or connecting on shots from the outside. In a 43-42 win over Oakwood on May 1, Breen scored eight points in the first quarter to prevent the Hawks from running away with things.
“We were dragging in the beginning and he kept us in the game,” Buller said. “He’s our do it all guy and knows every position. He gets better as the game goes along and knows at times he has to be a motivator, facilitator and defender, depending on the situation. I told him I wish I got to coach him for three more years because he does all the stuff we want to do, and he does it right.”
Freeman is a wing player who can serve as a matchup nightmare for opposing squads.
“Versus Carmel, Chase got whatever shot he wanted,” Buller said. “He has a very smooth, flowing game. He knows how to slow the game down, makes the right reads, gets us in good spots and is a leader out there vocally telling guys where to be defensively.”
The Balers have a trio of post players in Ricky Navarro, Victor Moitoso and Jaiden Prado, a sophomore transfer from Monte Vista Christian who has shined in a couple of games. Even though Navarro is a football player first and a basketball player second, he brings certain intangibles that every team needs.
“He’s been a great leader for some of the younger big guys who are more basketball skilled, but he still plays at the most important times because he does the right stuff and they’re able to learn from him,” Buller said.
Rising sophomore Dominic Price plays beyond his years and is one of several key players who will be returning next season, which gives those in and around the program reason to believe that the building blocks are in place for not just this year but beyond.
“He’s probably our smartest player and understands what we’re doing best,” Buller said. “Having centerpieces like Dominic moving forward along with putting all freshmen on our JV team this season really has us building toward the future.”
The present looks promising as well, as a deep roster including players like Johnny Vigilante and Bryant Vasquez allows Buller to utilize full-court pressure. San Benito has a goal to eventually move back to the upper Gabilan Division, and Pacheco said the team has the right coach to guide them there.
“Coach Buller is a great coach,” Pacheco said. “He’s not afraid to tell us what we’re doing wrong, which is what I like. He even yelled at us during the Pac Point game (a 79-30 win) because we weren’t playing defense and we needed to keep our foot on the pedal and keep our intensity up.”