Despite a 50-36 loss in the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs on Feb. 18, San Benito High boys basketball coach Bo Buller wasn’t too downtrodden afterward.
After all, the Haybalers had their best season in eight years and the future looks promising even with the impending losses of standouts Tyler Pacheco and Jayden Freidt to graduation. That’s because the Haybalers’ freshmen and junior varsity teams both excelled this season, combining to go 24-3.
The JV team, in fact, was the only squad to defeat Alvarez High in league play. Buller brought up a half-dozen players from the lower level teams to watch and take notes in the playoff game at Los Gatos High.
“I brought six of them up here for a reason and they sat behind our bench, took stats all night and did a great job in practice this week,” Buller said. “I told them this is us the next two, three years. That we’re going to be in this exact spot and you saw it tonight that you’ve got to be physical, you’ve got to be stronger and we’ve got to be a little more mentally tough on defense and be in the right spot. But we’re going to get there.”
Freidt was the only San Benito player to hit double figures, finishing with 14 points. The Balers finished the season 17-7 after falling to the No. 10 seed Wildcats (15-11). San Benito was never really in this one, falling behind 17-11 after the first quarter.
The Balers trailed by 13 points at halftime and never got closer than eight points the rest of the way. Los Gatos was the bigger and stronger team and used that to dominate the boards in the first half. The Wildcats routinely grabbed offensive rebounds for putback points and even when they didn’t score off those, they took time off the clock with the extra possessions.
“We knew going in for us to stay in it, we had to put in the extra effort in rebounding the basketball,” Buller said. “We also wanted to be confident with our shooting, and not that there was a lack of confidence, but our shots weren’t falling. Part of it is when you’re not getting stops maybe you feel a little more rushed and you get a little out of your game. In that first half we dug ourselves a hole. Against other teams, we’ve been able to get ourselves out of that hole, but credit Los Gatos for keeping us in check.”
For the Balers to keep taking a jump up in their level of play going forward to make a deeper playoff run, they’ll look to and need returning players like Dominic Price, Chandler Crutcher and Jaiden Prado to improve their games in the off-season and come back next season better than ever.
Their improvement will be paramount, especially if Buller gets his way and the team gets promoted to play in the Pacific Coast League’s upper A-league Gabilan Division next season. Price, Crutcher and Prado all had solid seasons and the team will be built around them next year and in Crutcher’s case, the next three years as he is only a freshman.
“We already have stuff planned for March, April and the summer,” Buller said.
Jassy Mudhar-Chavez will be a senior next year and has the potential to have a standout season. Buller is also high on Anthony Felix, who was brought up from the freshmen team for the stretch run. Mudhar-Chavez contributed in a variety of ways throughout the season and Felix saw significant minutes against Los Gatos.
“Along with the seniors and the core that is coming up and returning, they were able to learn on the fly and play at a high varsity level,” Buller said.
Buller said he’ll remember the nine seniors on this year’s team because for him it’s about building relationships that will last far longer than when they competed together on the same team. Freidt routinely guarded the opposing team’s best player, Chavez stepped up to whatever challenge he faced and Pacheco brought a tremendous amount of competitiveness and determination every time he stepped on the court.
“As a coach, that’s what you’ll remember,” Buller said. “The wins are great, but you remember the kids. You remember the moments on the bus, the practices when something goofy happens. I got married in November and three of my groomsmen were teammates of mine in high school. I told our guys that some of them may be in the biggest moments of your life. Basketball is not the biggest moment of your life.
“These moments now, it’s about building on the relationships and the friendships you may have for the rest of your life. If a coach goes into it for something more transactional than building up young kids, you’re only going to reach so much happiness there. We’re building something special here and we’re going to keep building, the play on the court and the friendships that will last well beyond their playing days.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]