ATASCADERO — After a brutal four-game stretch through their own Christmas Tournament in which they went 0-4, the Atascadero High School boys basketball team responded at home on Friday night showing their grit and winning their Ocean League opener against Morro Bay, 63-55. It wasn’t always pretty as the Greyhounds saw their established lead shrink more than once and go through foul trouble including an odd technical, but when the scoreboard hit triple zeros it was the Hounds who started the second part of their season undefeated.
Coming into Friday night’s Ocean League opener, Atascadero was 6-11 on the season but now, after a league victory, they have nine more games that could see them end the season as league champions. For the next month, the Hounds will play Morro Bay, Templeton, Orcutt Academy, Nipomo and Santa Maria twice (Morro Bay only once more) to decide who wins the first Ocean League basketball title.
“Well it isn’t over,” sophomore guard Mitchell Carpenter said following the game. “We need this next win because it’s 10 games, every game counts, if we lose one it’s like football, everything matters.”
Atascadero jumped out to a big early lead against the Pirates Friday night by unleashing the long ball and getting into their offense early. Morro Bay came out running a 2-3 zone and stayed in it throughout the game and the Hounds were able to get open shots all night.
“They were playing mostly a 2-3 [zone defense],” Carpenter said. “So we were trying to get it into the short corner and hit it for a three or go for a wide open lay-up.”
Senior guard Will Keil threw a splash party and invited Carpenter. The two sharp-shooters combined for 12 made three-pointers on 38 percent shooting. Atascadero started off feeding Keil as he came around off-ball screens early in the first quarter and the senior stayed hot, only cooling off while on the bench, as he finished with 18 points, shooting 6-for-15 from behind the arc.
“The shots were falling so I had to keep pulling them,” Keil said. “Nothing too much, I got into some foul trouble so that cooled me off a little in the second half but in the first half I was definitely feeling it.”
When Keil wasn’t feeling it, Carpenter, who led the team in scoring with 22 points, would take his place, nailing 6-for-15 jumpers from behind the line. For many of the games this season, the scoring and rebounding load his fallen atop the 6-foot-7 shoulders of senior center Cade VanAllen but on Friday night he was the perfect accent piece as the Hounds worked the ball in and out of the post and around the perimeter defeating the zone. VanAllen still finished with the 16 points and 16 rebounds.
Of the six teams that currently make up the Ocean League, the Hounds, Templeton and Nipomo were the three winners on the first night of play. On Tuesday, Atascadero will make the short trip north to take on the Eagles in what will be an early league game that will have tons of implications on the potential playoff picture.
The Eagles are currently 7-7 overall after beating Santa Maria by 16 on Friday. Tuesday’s game will be a fun matchup to see how both teams play each other. The Hounds should have an advantage down low with the height of VanAllen but the Eagles play a team brand of basketball where any of their starting five could end up as their leading scorer depending on the night.
Templeton is also coming into tonight's game off a tough tournament performance going 1-3 in the Damien High School Tournament over winter break but won their previous tournament, Corcoran High School Tournament, at the beginning of December going 3-0 and taking the upper division.
Tonight will be the second time the two small-town schools will play a meaningful game against each other since the realignment of the leagues with the first one coming in volleyball in the spring. The winner tonight will be 2-0 in the Ocean League and be in the driver’s seat to the crown.