His eyes beaming equal parts passion and focus, there was no chance Eric Piscatella was leaving the Shadow Hills gym without a playoff win Wednesday night.
Trailing Irvine High 25-23 in the first round of the CIF Division III-A playoffs, the host Knights rode Piscatella’s five second-half 3-pointers to grab a 53-48 win over the Vaqueros and capture the first basketball playoff win in school history.
Piscatella led all scorers with 25 points while sophomore forward Sean Roby added 12 more for the victors.
“I was just focused and my teammates gave me the ball in the right places,” said Piscatella, who tallied six 3-pointers on the night. “My team gives me confidence and they (Irvine) were playing good defense, but I was shooting it up from way out there and, bang, they went in. It feels great and we have to give it all to our coaches. They emphasize hard work and dedication to the game.”
From the outset of the latter half, Shadow Hills showed the type of dedication that earned the Knights a De Anza League title this season. After outscoring Irvine 15-6 in the third quarter and taking a 38-31 lead to the fourth, Piscatella erased a late Irvine run with his sixth 3-pointer to give Shadow Hills a 51-45 edge with less than a minute remaining.
“He’s a senior and he’s always stepped up in big moments,” said Knights’ head coach Aaron Wiltrout of Piscatella’s performance. “And after a while I just told him, ‘Keep shooting. I don’t care if you’re at that shield on the floor way out there. Keep shooting.’ “
Of the Knights authoring new history Wednesday night, Wiltrout mirrored his star player’s on-court fervor.
“When we opened this school, we thought five years was the point where we’d win our league and start making a run in the playoffs and we got there in four years,” added Wiltrout. “I feel a great sense of pride for our senior class right now, but also the couple of classes that came before. Every year we get better and keep building the program.”
Winners of 10 of their past 11 games, Shadow Hills (15-9) will require lofty building blocks to continue their playoff run. On Friday, the Knights visit Santa Barbara (23-2), champions of the Channel League and the No. 1 seed in the division.