This game didn't score much with style points by any means, and judging by coach John DePonte's postgame frown, a crash course is in order to clean things up with the next, taller hurdle looming.
The Pleasant Grove Eagles won their first Northern California Division I boys basketball game Wednesday night in Elk Grove by doing just enough to hold off scrappy, athletic Castlemont of Oakland 64-57.
There was a degree of satisfaction in that achievement, to be sure, but there wasn't an Eagles player, coach, fan, parent or booster to be found who would scream that this was a championship effort.
Pleasant Grove (24-6) had moments of good play sharing the ball and defending but there were enough erratic stretches to make any coach or team captain groan.
Next is the proverbial beast of the East Bay, as in top-seeded De La Salle of Concord, the defending NorCal champion and a decades-long power that emphasizes defense and team play to smother teams.
Pleasant Grove plays at De La Salle on Saturday in a second-round NorCal contest and is every bit capable of competing, yes, but can it do more? A win would surely rate as a stunner given the season results for both teams, with De La Salle fresh off its 10th North Coast Section title and Pleasant Grove advancing to the NorCals as a Sac-Joaquin Section semifinalist.
"We should be at the point of the season where we shouldn't have to clean up anything," DePonte said. "It's some of the same mistakes, same turnovers that keep teams in (games) and hurt us. We can play better."
Pleasant Grove played without floor leader guard Malik Thames, who was out because of the flu, but it got solid efforts from the usual crew of Cody Demps (20 points), Cole Nordquist (13) and Matt Hayes (11). In addition, Matt Smrekar, Caleb Jackson, Ben Nguyen and D.J. Dunn provided valuable minutes and contributions.
Dunn, an All-Metro linebacker headed to the Air Force Academy, said his team is excited about the challenge of facing De La Salle, understanding that a Pleasant Grove victory would rattle the field. What's more, a De La Salle contest is his kind of fight. Dunn is a powerfully built inside player who lives to get physical, which is De La Salle in every regard.
"That's what I love a physical game," Dunn said, all smiles. "We know we can play better, and we know we have to play a perfect game. We can do it."
Pleasant Grove girls 66, Palo Alto 56 Despite not having point guard Marissa Wimbley (knee), the Eagles pulled a road upset behind Avonna Lee (18 points) and Deja James (15) and a 10-0 run to finish the game. Pleasant Grove was coming off an emotionally charged section semifinal loss to Kennedy.