Connor Ghione was running the court like a gazelle, beating defenders down the floor for layups or catching the ball in stride for close-range baskets. It’s no coincidence the Live Oak High sophomore forward made an impact with his legs. After all, he ran for the school’s cross country team in the fall. Ghione’s performance was symbolic of the team’s performances lately, as the Acorns have played with a ton of energy and hustle.
Led by Ghione’s 14 points, Live Oak beat Overfelt 63-58 to improve to 4-9 overall and 2-1 in Blossom Valley League Santa Teresa Division play. It was the second win in a row for the Acorns, who got off to a slow start to the season as the players adjusted to each other and to Dan Bergeron, the first-year Live Oak coach.
“It took us a while to get in rhythm, but I think our guys have a solid understanding of what we’re trying to do both defensively and offensively,” Bergeron said. “I think now they’re just able to come out and play, and it’s helping us execute and so their energy and desire to win have really picked up as well.”
Live Oak’s resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time. As long as the Acorns finish with a .500 or better record in division play, they will qualify for a Central Coast Section playoff berth. Although it’s too early to tell if the Acorns can accomplish that, the important thing is they hung together to survive a particularly rough start. Bergeron credits Ricky Uribe and Nick Sykes for providing leadership along the way.
“We start the season at 2-9 and that’s tough, that’s hard,” Bergeron said. “A lot of things can happen when you’re losing games, and give a lot of credit to those two guys for keeping us together. We have a young core group of players and Nick and Ricky both bring a big piece of toughness and leadership that we really needed, especially with the guys getting adjusted to a new coach. It’s really nice to have those guys keeping it together. As a result, we’ve won some guys lately.”
Against Overfelt, nine different players scored for Live Oak, which received 11 points from J.T. Carvalho, nine apiece from Sykes and Thomas Edwards and eight points from Uribe. Live Oak’s balance was key in the victory, as it played cohesively in all phases of the game. Sure, the Acorns were sloppy with the ball at times, but they were communicating well, spacing the court and finding each other in rhythm, which led to some easy baskets.
Uribe and fellow senior Connor Hennings—he’s the tallest player on the team at 6-foot-2—provided tough interior play and strong rebounding. Carvalho, who possesses a nice mid-range game, has the capability to score 20 points in a contest if he gets hot. The 6-1 sophomore has a nice pull-up jumper and can create space for himself, on or off the ball. Bergeron calls Edwards “our Energizer Bunny because he makes a lot of plays for us and is our best athlete.” Edwards had nine rebounds against Overfelt, and reserve Hunter Cousens provided some productive minutes after some players got into foul trouble.
“Hunter is a football guy and this was his second or third game,” Bergeron said. “He came in and got a big bucket for us, and it’s a testament to these guys that one through 12 they’re working hard everyday and they’re ready to go. You never know when your number is going to be called. For Hunter, it was tonight and he made well of the situation.”
The Acorns trailed 7-0 when Bergeron called a timeout to settle the team down and get organized. In the team’s previous game, a 64-56 victory over Oak Grove, Live Oak fell behind 9-1 straight out of the chute.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Bergeron said. “Maybe we have to change things up. I don’t know what they’re eating for lunch because we obviously don’t want to come out and start the game flat. But I was really pleased they were able to come back, stay composed, run some offense and grind out wins.”
When it comes to winning plays, Ghione produced several against Overfelt. With the Acorns holding a slim lead with under a minute left, Ghione came up with an offensive rebound on a missed free throw and drew the foul. Both teams were in the double bonus at that point, and Ghione calmly sank two free throws to ice the game. When a play had to be made, Ghione delivered.
“We were having a hard time scoring in the fourth quarter, so that was such a big play,” Bergeron said. “We shot 2 for 10 in the fourth and needed something good to happen. He got an offensive rebound at a clutch time when we needed to get some points there. I was proud of his effort and proud of most of the guys because they’ve really kicked it up a notch lately.”