The Washington Manor Middle School Varsity Boys Basketball team won its first league championship in 13 years on Oct. 12, but it didn’t come easy.
A strong comeback heading into the fourth period against Itliong-Vera Cruz Middle School of Union City earned them a 42-36 win and a trophy for the Southern Alameda County Middle Athletic League. The victory brought their season record to 11-2 and was a fitting bookend to their junior varsity championship a year before.
“Right after the game, I told them how proud I was of them as a group,” said Head Coach Gerardo “Jerry” Delos Reyes, in his 15th year. “When we needed this win, we did it, and everybody on this team won it for us because during the season and in practice, everybody pushed each other.”
The Washington Manor Wolves made it to the title game by beating John Muir Middle School of San Leandro in the first round on Oct. 5 and Creekside Middle School of Castro Valley in the semi-final on Oct. 10. Their post-season wins avenged regular season losses to Creekside and IVC, both within six points.
WMMS was off balance during the opening minutes of the championship game at Arroyo High School, with the IVC Cougars making uncontested outside baskets and the Wolves' team-leading center, Rogelio Ibarra, rushing his shots as he sought to close the gap.
Delos Reyes adjusted by having Ibarra set up at the top of the key rather than at the free throw line, giving him more room to maneuver against the Cougars’ defense and find an open man beneath the basket.
The game began to tighten, and seconds before the third-period buzzer, Wolves power forward Stephen Higgins hit a three-pointer to put WMMS up by three points.
Delos Reyes credited seventh-grade point guard Joshua Hill, the smallest player on the team, for his steady play. “He made some key free throws at the end to kind of ice the game,” said the coach, who also recognized the contributions of starters Daniel Salamanca, guard, and Eduardo Rodriguez, the other forward.
Delos Reyes said the Wolves' practice routine emphasized both skill development and training, but also a full half-hour for reviewing and running plays in different scenarios so players aren't easily rattled in game situations.
“That’s my formula, and that’s the way I approach every season,” he said.
The team is looking forward to a school ceremony for placement of their championship banner on the wall of the WMMS gym.
Delos Reyes, who also is an information technology technician for the San Lorenzo Unified School District, told his players, "For you eighth-graders who are moving on, if you should ever come back in this gym, you will look up there and say, 'That was my team.’”
The coach also said the future is promising for the Wolves junior varsity team, which was winless this fall with a squad heavy on sixth-graders, many of them new to organized basketball.
“I saw development and progress in the team, with the margin of final scores under 10 points,” Delos Reyes said.