Pilots Hold Off Jets in Island Classic Showdown

Noah Yiu -- Encinal Senior Omar Babikir drives by a SJND defender during the Jets' 53-49 loss to the Pilots.
Noah Yiu -- Encinal Senior Omar Babikir drives by a SJND defender during the Jets' 53-49 loss to the Pilots.

Pilots Hold Off Jets in Island Classic Showdown

The Saint Joseph Notre Dame (SJND) Pilots fended off a late comeback attempt from the visiting Encinal Jets, beating their city rivals, 53-49, on Friday, Dec. 2.

The game between these two teams served as the opening matchup of this year’s Island Classic, an annual four-team tournament, hosted by SJND.

Both the Jets and the Pilots began the first game with a lot of energy. After both teams traded the lead early, the Pilots seized the advantage as they ended the first quarter up 17-9. SJND had a balanced offensive attack led by junior guard Alex Duenas (#20) and junior forward Gabe Enyinwa (#0) who formed quite the inside-outside duo. Duenas made several three-pointers and Enyinwa was a force around the basket, making big shots on offense and protecting the rim on defense.

The Pilots’ defense continued to stifle the Jets in the second quarter as Encinal had trouble making shots. The hosts went into halftime with a 30-16 lead.

However, the Jets made some adjustments at the break. Encinal cut SJND’s lead to nine points by the end of the third quarter. Encinal senior Diego Cerna (#23) played a key role in the Jets’ improved play after halftime.

The Jets carried their momentum into the game’s final quarter, continuing to put pressure on the Pilots’ ball-handlers and disrupt their offense. Yet, they could not complete the comeback as they blew a chance to take the lead late in the game. SJND junior Greyson Martin (#14) made a clutch shot to put the Pilots up 53-49 and then their defense held on to secure the victory.

SJND Head Coach Don Lippi addressed where things went wrong for the Pilots as they almost let a double-digit lead slip away.

“We can learn how to establish an attack under pressure,” said Lippi. “We have a big guy in the middle [Enyinwa] whom we didn’t use enough. It is my fault for not teaching our players how to attack if they are having difficulty dribbling under pressure."

About 30 years ago, former Pilots’ head coach, the late Frank LaPorte, founded the Island Classic tournament. National basketball Association stars Jason Kidd and Damian Lillard are two of the many Bay Area prep basketball players who have played in the Island Classic over the years.

The two other teams in this year’s tournament, Urban High of San Francisco and Mt. Eden High of Hayward faced off following the conclusion of the evening’s first game. Urban took down Mt. Eden, 47-32, in the second game.

On day two of the Island Classic, Urban defeated Encinal, 78-53, while Mt. Eden defeated SJND, 43-35, on Dec. 3, at the SJND gymnasium. SJND (2-1) will face Urban in its next contest on Saturday, Dec. 10 on the road. Encinal (1-2) will face Sonoma Valley High on Dec. 10 on the road.

Ben Wiley -- A St. Joseph Notre Dame player makes a pass after being triple-teamed.