"We've seen it, we worked against it, and were prepared for it," said Heritage head coach Pat Cruickshank about the Gaucho D. "We just didn't react well to it."
The No. 2 seed Patriots led for all but 1:22 of the first half, but once that lead slipped away, they were never able to regain it, falling 69-54 in their second-round North Coast Section Division II playoff game against the team from Petaluma last Friday night.
"I think we had them for about a quarter and a half," said Cruickshank. "Then they put that little zone up against us and that caused us some problems."
Backed by a large student rooting section and led by guard Jordan Knox, who scored the team's first six points, Heritage began the game looking dominant and jumped out to an early 10-3 lead with 2:55 to go in the first quarter.
But as soon as Casa Grande coach James Forni inserted a zone defense midway through the second quarter, Heritage watched its lead slowly evaporate as the Gauchos' leading scorers, Matt Nadolski and Malek Hurd, went to work.
The duo scored 13 of the team's 17 points during a 10-point swing in the second quarter, leading to a 26-21 halftime advantage. Nadolski and Hurd continued to impress in the second half, finishing with 19 points each to eclipse their season averages of 12.5 and 13.7 points, respectively.
The Casa Grande defense continued to stifle Heritage in the second half, taking the edge in rebounding and forcing a flurry of turnovers to extend its lead to 59-43 with 3:43 to go in the third quarter. Heritage made two late runs, one capped by senior Paul Ramey and another by Knox, to close the deficit to only eight points, but that would be as close as the Patriots would get.
Ramey finished with 16 points, leading Heritage in scoring, and Knox finished with 11. Knox and Ramey were the only two Patriots to score in double figures.
The loss ends a successful season for the Patriots. In addition to making its first NCS appearance in only its second year as a varsity program, Heritage finished fourth in the highly competitive Bay Valley Athletic League and posted an overall record of 20-7.
"We had a great season," Cruickshank said. "We had a great group of kids. I am as proud of them as I possibly could be. They were fantastic. It was tough to say good-bye to some of them in there."