Special to the Pleasanton Weekly by Andy Udinski
On February 18, the Foothill High School boys' varsity team ended their regular season with a 60-51 victory cross-town rival Amador Valley in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Foothill.
The pre-game ceremony featured Senior Night recognition of Foothill's senior cheerleaders and eleven senior players on the basketball team. Foothill's leadership class did a good job of promoting the game and energized the Falcon student body with "The Nest" T-Shirts for the students attending the game.
After an inspiring rendition of the National Anthem by one of Foothill's choir members, the rivalry game was on. Chris O'Neil, Foothill's co-captain and leading scorer, was donning a full, protective face mask to guard his broken nose from further injury. O'Neil had broken his nose during the Granada game played on February 15, but would not allow his injury from playing in this game. The student body demonstrated their support of O'Neil's courageous move by wearing mock-up face masks.
The Falcon's Nest was full of electricity and Foothill was feeding off the energy. The Falcons scored the first basket of the game and mounted an early lead. Foothill's defense took over and smothered the Dons led by co-captain Chad Bianchi's inspired play. The Dons responded with a full-court pressing defense. Foothill consistently broke the press.
In the latter part of the 1st quarter, Amador over-extended their press and left Foothill's center, DeJon Pierson, wide-open in Foothill's offensive side of the court. The 6' 7" center received a pass from one of his teammates and headed towards the lane on a mission. Pierson took a very determined dribble toward the basket and the entire Foothill crowd focused in anticipation as he descended towards the rim. Pierson would not disappoint the home crowd. He elevated, with the ball in his left hand, to adrenalin-filled new heights and threw down a "poster-izing" tomahawk dunk over a flailing Amador defender. The Foothill crowd erupted to a season high decibel level. The Falcons went on to close out the 1st quarter with a 16-9 advantage.
The Falcons rode the momentum of Pierson's dunk into the second quarter and extended their lead as they closed out the 1st half with a 31-18 advantage.
Amador was able to muster a small rally in the 3rd quarter but never made a real threat to the Falcons. Amador was able to close the margin to 9 points as the 3rd period ended and the stage was set for 4th and final period.
Foothill continued to play with determination during the fourth quarter as Amador also raised their game. The teams exchanged baskets in the early part of the quarter and then Amador began to chip away at the lead. O'Neil, who appeared not to be satisfied with the way the game was going, removed his protective face mask with a few minutes remaining in the game.
After a fluke four point possession by Amador, Foothill's lead was suddenly cut to four points. This is when O'Neil took over. The ball was inbounded to O'Neil who faced Amador's full court press. He juked his way through a couple of defenders and in the back court and header toward Foothill's basket. He weaved his way through three more Amador players with determination and finished his quest with a hand-shifting, left-handed layup. This created an enormous roar from the Falcon's Nest and took the decibel level in the Falcon's Nest even higher.
On Foothill's next possession, they faced yet another four point lead. Foothill patiently ran their offense and time off the clock. A Foothill shot glanced off the rim and was up for grabs. Bianchi extended his 6' 3" body and dove after the loose ball. He was able to slap the ball in the direction of teammate Nick Roby. The ball eventually made its way to O'Neil who was positioned behind the 3-point line. The mask-less O'Neil drained an NBA-length 3-pointer over two Amador defenders. This basket was the dagger that ended the short-lived Amador rally and extended the margin to seven points with about one minute left in the game.
Foothill, who led the game from beginning to end, closed out the game with a convincing 60-51 victory over the Dons. The victory over Amador also secured final bragging rights. The Falcon Nest rushed the court as the buzzer sounded to celebrate the victory and then headed to IN-N-Out Burger to commemorate the accomplishment.
The Falcons were led by seniors Chris O'Neil, Thomas Sun, Chad Bianchi and DeJon Pierson with 19, 13, 11 and 8 points respectively. The victory also sealed a 3rd place EBAL finish for the second consecutive year for Foothill (behind De La Salle and San Ramon respectively – both years) and a NCS-qualifying playoff berth for the Falcons. (Note: Amador and California High School were also involved in a 3-way tie for 3rd place with the Falcons this year.)
Foothill (seeded 12th in NCS) drew Berkeley (5th seed) in the first round of the NCS playoffs. Chris O'Neil did not play in the NCS playoff game because his fractured nose was re-set the day of the playoff game. The travelling Falcons competed well into late into the 4th quarter and managed to stay within single-digit striking distance, but Berkeley pulled away and ended the short-lived Falcons playoff run 53-35.
Congratulations to head coach Ryan Lloyd, assistant coach Joe Johnson, seniors Chad Bianchi, Stepen Ferrel, Keaton Housman, Adal Malik, Stephan Mohajer, Chris O'Neill, Dejon Peirson, Jimmy Rhoades, Nick Roby, Thomas Sun, Michael Udinski; and juniors Nate Bussani, Jonathan Vicencio on a great season.