While he wouldn’t call it a rivalry, Williams’ head basketball coach Tony Hermann admitted that the fans that packed the high school gym brought a little something extra in Williams’ (15-5, 2-1) home game against Mid-Valley League foe East Nicoluas (5-12, 0-3) last Friday.
According to Hermann, a lot of it goes back to football: For the past three years, East Nicolaus has ousted Williams from the Northern Section CIF D-IV football playoffs. In 2014, the Spartans dashed the Yellowjacket’s hopes for a perfect season in the NSCIF semifinal. In 2015, East
Nicolaus defeated Williams in the NSCIF championship game, then went on to win a state title. This year, the Spartans defeated the Yellowjackets in the opening round.
While fall sports season may be gone, the results are not forgotten, and Yellowjackets players and fans alike were hungry for a bit of retribution on Friday night.
It didn’t take long before they got it.
With senior guard Alex Velázquez leading the charge on the court and a raucous crowd filling the stands around it, the Yellowjackets jumped out to a 29-7 lead in the first quarter and never looked back — ultimately defeating the Spartans 80-62 and maintaining at least a 14-point lead throughout the game.
“It was an electric atmosphere. They’ve been pretty loud, and have been bringing it every game, but I think with East Nicolaus, it brings a little bit of extra excitement,” Hermann said of the crowd. “And I think it brings a little bit of fire to our players.”
The crowd also fed off of the players. The decibel level in the gym reached a peak early in the first quarter, when a Velázquez crossover caused East Nicolaus guard S.J. Brown to fall backwards. Velázquez took a three-point shot, missed, grabbed the offensive rebound and left Brown staggering again after another crossover. Velazquez then drove to the hoop, was fouled on a shot attempt, and made both free-throws to finish a sequence of events that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
“That was the loudest I have heard it. (The crowd was) basketball savvy enough to know that the crossover kind of embarrassed the guy,” Hermann said.
Velazquez finished with 23 points, 8 steals 4 assists, and 5 rebounds, despite sitting most of the fourth quarter.
When it wasn’t Velazquez scoring for Williams, it was sophomore Anthony Davalos and junior Bryson Bowen.
Exploiting a size advantage in the post, the Yellowjackets repeatedly fed the ball to Davalos and Bowen, who finished with 15 and 12 points, respectively.
“I don’t think its any secret now that we have two of best athletic bigs that anybody can ask for. We find a mismatch early on, hopefully, and we kind of attack it… We’re often going to have a mismatch with one of them. And when one of them gets hot, other teams put a better defender on them and we just swap it up,” Hermann said. “I don’t think its coincidental that we’ve played 20 games, and in 16 to 18 of them, have had close to the same exact points and rebounds.”
With the win, the Yellowjackets move to 2-1 in Mid-Valley League play, and into a three-way tie for first place with Durham and Hamilton.
At the time of publication, Williams was set to travel to Durham to face off with Trojans (9-11, 2-1) for the second time in six days. Williams defeated Durham 62-49 on Jan. 25. On Friday, the Yellowjackets travel to face Hamilton (11-8, 2-1).