Placer KOs El Camino to reach Kendall Arnett title game

By: Matthew Kimel, Journal sports editor
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El Camino delivered an apparent slap to a Hillman’s face.

Placer responded with a knockout punch.

Isaiah Pineiro scored a game-high 34 points, Michael McNamara had 11 and the Hillmen eliminated El Camino in a 69-61 slugfest Friday night to reach the championship round of the 71st Kendall Arnett Tournament.

“It’s always our goal to get to the championship game,” said an elated McNamara.

Placer (12-3) is set to take on Del Campo (11-3), which defeated Woodcreek 67-57 in the other Arnett semifinal.

On Friday, Placer went into intermission down 31-23 after a pedestrian start by both teams in what most would consider a foul-fest. El Camino (8-5) held a slim 10-8 advantage at the end of one, as both teams combined for 15 penalties in opening eight minutes.

El Camino drilled three consecutive 3-pointers late in the second to gain its biggest lead of the night.

“We struggled getting good shots and good shot selection,” Placer coach Mark Lee said of his team’s low first-half offensive production, which he attributed to El Camino’s press. “We got in foul trouble. McNamara and Peter (Kean) got in foul trouble, had to sit out most of the first half. Bench did a great job coming in with (Dylan) DiRuscio, (Brennen) Entz, Felix (Oliveros).”

The Hillmen used a 6-0 run at the start of the third to get right back into the game.

And then McNamara converted a three-point play, giving Placer a 34-33 advantage.

“McNamara’s been huge,” Pineiro said. “When he attacks the basket, everyone’s better.”

Placer gained more momentum on a four-point play after Pineiro appeared to be intentionally slapped in the face by El Camino’s Marcus Gregory, who scored six points before getting ejected from the contest. Gregory received a round of applause from the home crowd as he was escorted off the court.

Pineiro, who went off for 21 points in the second half and had a handful of blocks throughout, made the two ensuing fouls shots and the Hillmen scored on the inbound play to grab a 48-43 lead.

Pineiro was also called for a technical foul on the bizarre play that Lee said wasn’t the first time he’s seen somebody slapped at Earl Crabbe Gym.

“He was over the back and he was holding,” Pineiro said of Gregory. “I tried to pivot and I guess I got him with an elbow and he didn’t like that.”

After the win, it was all fun and games for the Hillmen in the locker room, who are looking to win their first Kendall Arnett title since 2004.

Andrew Dahlin (eight points) and Kean doused Isaiah Pineiro by pouring a jumbo-sized Gatorade container full of ice water on his back while being interviewed by the Journal. Pineiro and teammate Felix Oliveros had pulled the sneak attack Gatorade bath on Dahlin the night before after the Hillmen beat San Juan in their Kendall Arnett opener.

Surely, the Hillmen would enjoy getting to dump another cold bucket on somebody’s head after Saturday night’s game.

“The kids grow up wanting to win the Kendall,” Lee said. “Every group that comes through here wants to win the Kendall cause it’s our tournament and there’s history and tradition that go along with it.”

Union Mine 71, San Juan 63 — Union Mine’s Alec Vaugh (25 points) and Scott McIntyre (22 points) helped their team reach Saturday’s 5 p.m. consolation championship game against Colfax. San Juan’s Brandon Hayworth had 24 points on the night.

Placer JV 67, Bear River 55 — Justin DiRuscio scored 26 points and Giovanni Roberts added 25 for the Hillmen, who reached the Kendall Arnett Championship and will play against Woodcreek at 1:30 p.m. Defensively, Daniel Frew was a key to Placer’s success.

Reach Matthew Kimel at Follow him on Twitter @matthewkimel for live updates from the Kendall Arnett title game.