Joe Davidson

Why Placer High’s throwback gym and new-era basketball player are worth going to see

Senior guard Kai Huntsberry and No. 6 Placer will host No. 10 Calaveras in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal Wednesday.
Senior guard Kai Huntsberry and No. 6 Placer will host No. 10 Calaveras in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal Wednesday. Courtesy of Lenie’s Pictures

Sometimes it takes an old relic to appreciate one.

OK, so Mark Lee isn’t quite relic material yet, as the Placer High School basketball coach seemingly defies age despite 29 years on the grind, but he does blend in beautifully inside one of the country’s terrific venues.

Earl Crabbe Gym has to be seen and heard to be fully appreciated. It has aged well over 80-plus years, and it’s so revered that it has received National Register of Historic Places designation from the U.S. Park Service in Washington, D.C. It was built in 1937 for some $85,000 using Works Progress Administration funds. For years, there was a shooting range in the cellar beneath the gym.

Named after the school’s athletic director from decades ago, the gym has seating on one side with high walls and the overwhelming feel of nostalgia.

The place rocked to the rafters last week in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff opener against Union Mine, the 100-member band doing its thing and the Gold Mine student rooting section doing theirs. Senior guard Kai Huntsberry did what he does, too. He electrified with 27 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals to key an 82-73 victory. On Friday, sixth-seeded Placer beat No. 3 Dixon in Solano County 67-58 to earn another home game. The Hillmen will host Calaveras in a semifinal Wednesday.

“Home games are a quite an experience,” said Lee, in his 24th year coaching the Hillmen. “The rooting section is nice and loud. The band is great. It’s a throwback place. We love it.”

The Hillmen (22-7) play a throwback game of sharing the ball and playing defense. They have won seven consecutive games and 12 of 14. Placer is battle tested from the Pioneer Valley League, having won or shared that title six successive seasons. Still alive in the playoffs from the PVL are Foothill in D-IV and Colfax in D-V.

Huntsberry is the key for Placer, a three-year varsity performer whom Lee calls, “a great teammate, a worker with a high basketball IQ.” The other Placer starters are center Noah Richardson, the tallest regular at 6-foot-3, and wing Ryan Walsh, forward Lucas Yamzon and top defender Derek Schreeve. Key players off the bench include Dylan Bridges, Layton Birchell, Jordan Perlow and Owen Tucker.

The efforts of this Hillmen bunch surely would have impressed Tom Barry, the beloved Placer basketball coach from 1967-79. He died last week after a long battle with cancer. He was 80.

Barry especially enjoyed watching Kendall Arnett-coached games at Crabbe Gym, one of the longest-running events in the country. In his 12 years with the Hillmen, Barry went 119-23 in the Sierra Foothill League with eight championships. He won 239 games overall, including 26-3 in 1972 when Placer was top-ranked in Superior California by The Bee.

After coaching, Barry served as student activities director at Placer and later was the principal at Del Oro. He is in the Placer Hall of Fame.

“Tom was a legend here, a great mentor for all the basketball coaches,” Lee said.

When reminded that he hasn’t unearthed any plaid sports coats Barry wore in the 1970s, Lee laughed.

“I haven’t gotten that one out yet,” Lee said.

There’s a time to wear hideous getups. The next home game would be perfect.

Wrestling

Del Oro wrestlers came, they saw and they conquered plenty in Stockton, placing third in the section Masters championships behind powerhouse programs Vacaville and Oakdale.

In the event held Friday and Saturday at Stockton Arena, the Golden Eagles had more finalists and winners than Vacaville and Oakdale, sending four wrestlers to the victory stand’s top step and six to the finals.

Brothers Eli and Noah Blake won at 132 and 160 pounds, respectively. Eli pinned his first three opponents and beat Sammy Silveria of Pitman 3-0 in the final. Noah, ranked second in the state by CalGrappler.com, registered four quick pins, including 21 seconds in one match, 1:18 in another and 1:13 over Vacaville’s Cole Chapman in the final.

Other Del Oro winners were Brenden Johnson at 120 and JT Stinson at 152, and second-place finishers were Evan Ivaldi at 106 and Dallas Stevens at 113.

Other area winners: Jake Stone of Oakmont at 106 and Angelo Martinoni of Folsom at 126.

The state championships are Friday and Saturday in Bakersfield.

Girls wrestling

Candice Corralejo of Del Oro and Tavi Heidelberg of McClatchy won CIF State medals in girls wrestling at 131 and 225 pounds, respectively, at the Visalia Convention Center.

Heidelberg upset nationally ranked No. 1 and No. 3 competition en route to the title. Yelena Makoyed of Bella Vista was second at 160.

CIF SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Boys basketball

All games 7 p.m. unless noted

Wednesday

Semifinals

Division I

No. 4 Folsom at No. 1 Sheldon

No. 3 Capital Christian at No. 2 Modesto Christian

Division II

No. 5 Grant at No. 1 Antelope

No. 3 Whitney at No. 2 St. Mary’s

Division III

No. 5 Patterson at No. 1 Central Catholic

No. 6 Rio Americano at No. 2 Beyer

Division IV

No. 9 Foothill at No. 4 West Campus

No. 10 Calaveras at No. 6 Placer

Division V

No. 4 Bradshaw Christian at No. 1 Argonaut

No. 6 Summerville at No. 2 Colfax

Friday

Championship

Division VI

No. 1 Sacramento Adventist at No. 2 Ripon Christian, noon

Girls basketball

All games 7 p.m. unless noted

Tuesday

Semifinals

Division I

No. 4 Edison at No. 1 St. Mary’s

No. 3 Cosumnes Oaks at No. 2 Folsom

Division II

No. 4 Del Oro at No. 1 Antelope

No. 3 Whitney at No. 2 Bear Creek

Division III

No. 5 Bradshaw Christian at No. 1 Christian Brothers

No. 3 River Valley at No. 2 Kimball

Division IV

No. 4 Lathrop at No. 1 Foothill

No. 3 West Campus at No. 2 Union Mine

Division V

No. 5 Mariposa at No. 1 Colfax

No. 3 Capital Christian at No. 2 Argonaut

Friday

Championship

Division VI

No. 2 Ripon Christian at No. 1 Forest Lake Christian, 10 a.m.

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