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BOYS BASKETBALL: Serra Ousted in NorCal Opener

Franklin of Elk Grove pulls away down stretch in CIF Northern Region Division I playoff game; soph Caruso leads host Padres with 22 points and 12 rebounds.

The Score: Franklin 57, Serra 54.

The Star: Serra High reserve Henry Caruso’s outstanding performance gave his team a fighting chance in an opening-round game in the California Interscholastic Federation Northern Region Division I playoffs. The sophomore post rallied the host Padres to pull even with Franklin of Elk Grove at halftime from an early 13-point deficit with his 14 first-half points. Caruso led Serra with 22 points (on 8-of-17 shooting) and hauled in a game-high 12 rebounds.

The Turning Point: A 30-second sequence midway through the fourth quarter. For the most part, Serra was able to contain Franklin’s extreme athleticism after a rocky first quarter. But Franklin briefly broke through again in the final period with a four-play sequence to push its lead from three to seven points. Franklin post Theo Johnson altered a Caruso shot and then Darin Johnson immediately flashed for a layup at the other end. Then Franklin’s aggressive defense forced a wild Connor McGrath shot, and Ikenna Iroegbu turned on the jets for a layup that put Serra in a 47-40 hole with 5:18 remaining. The Padres never pulled closer than four points until an uncontested McGrath layup at the buzzer.

The Quote: “They were playing three levels of speed higher than we’re used to. … (The slow start) doomed us. We had to spend so much energy to get back in the game that it didn’t leave much in reserve in the fourth quarter.” – Padres coach Chuck Rapp, on adjusting to Franklin’s early blitz that put his team in a 23-10 hole.

What’s Next? Serra’s season is finished.

The Bottom Line: The Padres bowed out in the opening round of the NorCal playoffs in a loaded Division I field. … Serra, which lost in the Central Coast Section Division I final on Saturday, never led against Franklin but engineered a fine comeback after a rough start. … If the Padres and their fans couldn’t tell Franklin was dripping with athletes after observing warmups, they certainly knew at the outset. Two of Franklin’s first three baskets were dunks. … “We knew they were going to come out swinging,” Pacheco said. … Caruso capped a marvelous sophomore season with a dominant showing against an elite opponent. His determination and finishing ability in the paint against Franklin’s length practically willed Serra’s comeback – he had 11 points in the second quarter alone to forge a 30-30 halftime tie. “Very impressive,” Franklin coach Jesse Formaker said of Caruso. “He’s aggressive. He’s strong. He’s powerful.” … Serra began the fourth quarter trailing 41-40 but then hit just one of its next seven shots. … McGrath was the focal point of Franklin’s defense, and he was held to 10 points overall and just two baskets before his final layup. “We were just trying to stay with him all the time, not give him any room,” said Formaker, who knew many of the Padres by name after his preparation. “We just sicked Anthony (King) on him. … The Padres shot 35.1 percent (20 of 57), while Franklin connected at a 45.2 percent clip (19 of 42). … Serra lost its first NorCal game for the second year in a row – it fell 66-53 to San Ramon Valley last year. In both games, the Padres faced an up-tempo assault that seemed quite foreign to them. “In the WCAL, it’s a little more of a grind,” Pacheco explained. “Each possession is crucial. In NorCals, it’s more open. It’s more free. It’s all about making plays.” … Afterwards, Rapp tipped his cap to McGrath, his team’s “fearless” leader. “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever had. Period. He’s right up there at the top. … Definitely one of the toughest players I’ve had.” … The Sac-Joaquin Section is clearly superior and deeper than the CCS in Division I. Franklin was a SJS semifinalist – losing to runner-up Jesuit. … Franklin advances to meet a juggernaut in Castro Valley (28-1) in the quarterfinals. … The overall Division I field is fearsome in Northern California, boasting four teams in CalHiSports.com’s top-20 in the state (in any division). Other than Castro Valley, those teams are Sheldon, De La Salle and Oakland.

________________________________________________________________

Franklin 57, Serra 54

F – 20 10 11 16 -- 57

S – 10 20 10 14 – 54

F: C. Iroegbu 7 9-11 23, T. Johnson 2 1-2 5, Lott 1 0-0 2, D. Johnson 3 3-4 9, King 1 1-2 4, I. Iroegbu 5 2-4 14.

S: McGrath 3 4-6 10, Barsocchini 1 0-0 2, Leahy 2 0-0 5, Pacheco 4 1-2 10, Regina 1 0-0 2, Caruso 8 6-9 22, Grosey 1 0-0 3. Totals: 20 11-17 54.

3-point goals: F: I. Iroegbu 2, King. S: Leahy, Pacheco, Grosey.

Records: Franklin 25-6. Serra 21-10.

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