When it was over, Dan Gonzalez high-fived everyone within swinging distance Wednesday night.
This included his coaches, players, people in the stands, people he knew well and those he wasn’t sure he knew at all.
The Davis High School basketball coach was that giddy, and the man should receive more kudos for an effort well done. It doesn’t take a mathematics teacher to understand the magnitude of what the No. 9-seeded Blue Devils accomplished, beyond beating No. 8 Monterey Trail 58-57 on the road in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff opener.
Davis last tasted playoff victory in 1999. Gonzalez is in his 20th season at the Blue Devils helm, and he’s in his 30th season as a math teacher at the Yolo County school.
So yeah, this feels good. It’s been a long time coming for a team dreaming of such fun, and it’s been an eternity for one of the region’s good-guy coaches who never wavered from his belief in how to develop players and teams.
Davis has endured lean times in hoops, including winning one league contest two years ago. Now at 17-8 and gaining steam, the Blue Devils have set dead aim at more history.
Davis hosts top-seeded Sheldon on Friday night, where a victory would stun the bracket as the Huskies loom as one of the top teams in the state and, potentially, one of the very best teams in regional history. Sheldon has to travel because the section deemed it fair due to forfeits. The Huskies forfeited four Delta League games due to a player competing in a Sunday adult league.
Though the team still was granted the top seed for its on court success, the section informed Sheldon that it would travel to teams that finished higher than the Huskies in Delta action, given those forfeits, and that includes Davis.
For now, Gonzalez is soaking up this moment. His post-game locker room was festive and loud. He wasn’t sure he even wanted to leave, but it was a school night.
“It’s a good group,” the coach said, beaming. “It’s the tightest group I’ve ever had. They don’t like leaving the gym. You know it’s special.”
In an effort to maximize his team - starters and bench - Gonzalez employs what’s called “The System.”
It’s where wave of players check in, sometimes five at a time, and everyone gets after it. The Blue Devils shoot, they hustle on defense, and they back each other and their coach. Ten players saw the bulk of the minutes and nine scored, led by Cody Taylor’s 10.
Collin Ye, Aidan Doms and Joey Asta each had nine points, and Kobe Standefer, Arcel Rusanganwa and Henry Siegler had five each. Bryce Fitzgerald led Monterey Trail with 20.
Asta’s free throw with 31.3 seconds left amounted to the final score as Monterey Trail was came up short on late field-goal attempts in a game that included 14 ties or lead changes in the second half.
“Everyone gets in,” Gonzalez said of his team. “They all work hard. They all want to show me what they can do. I get a lot of coaches who question me - ‘why do that?’ We just believe in that.”
The Blue Devils are turning a lot of folks into believers. The core of the team grew up in Davis, where the support is strong. The girls basketball team rooted on the boys at Monterey Trail.
“It means the world to us (to win games like this),” said Taylor, a 6-foot-3 junior guard who sports a 4.5 grade-point average. “People in Davis say, ‘how are you doing this?’ We believe in ourselves. We know we have to be in shape to run The System. Coach got us here.”
As for taking on Sheldon, the mantra just as well be, “Bring on the Huskies.” Davis fears nothing now. The Blue Devils are playing with house money as a lower seed. The pressure is on Sheldon.
“We haven’t beaten them since I’ve been here,” Taylor said. “We have a chip on our shoulder.”
Davis has made news in basketball since the 1960s, and the program has included stellar coaches and people in Royal Morrison, Les Curry, Rick Stromberg and Ralph Villanueva.
“Those guys were my mentors along with (retired football coach) Dave Whitmire,” Gonzalez said. “These kids have earned everything.”
Morrison led Davis to a 21-0 season in 1961-62, Curry led Davis to success in the ’70s, Stromberg in the 1980s and Villanueva in the 1990s, including winning the 1995 Division II section championship.
The ’62 team “baptized the new gym” on campus, Villanueva told The Bee last season. He was on that ’62 team. Imagine the water being thrown around should Davis topple Sheldon on Friday.