The ideal situation for Scotts Valley High boys basketball coach Gabe Gonzales was to clinch an automatic Central Coast Section playoff berth in the preseason in order to make things less complicated come league play.
But the Falcons now have their back against the wall after failing to qualify for the postseason following a non-winning overall record of 7-8 to begin the 2023-24 season.
“We’ve got the pressure on us to go .500 or better to go to CCS or we’re out, we’re done,” Gonzales said. “Our goal this year is CCS, and I think we’re ready for it.”
Scotts Valley closed out non-league action with back-to-back victories including a 75-65 win over St. Francis of Watsonville on Dec. 29. Leading the way were the Shilling twins—Zach and Will, who finished with 22 and 20 points, respectively.
“I feel like at the start of the game we just tried to find the right person,” Will Shilling said. “[We] were patient with the ball, and weren’t too aggressive. Just let the shots come to us.”
The Falcons now have to finish Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League play with a winning record in order to punch their ticket to the CCS playoffs.
In 2022-23, the Falcons finished with a 15-14 overall record and placed third in the SCCAL standings with a 5-5 record in league action.
They went on an impressive run in the CCS Division IV playoffs by reaching the semifinals with wins over Oceana High, Stevenson School and Menlo School.
However, the Falcons graduated a pair of impact players in Davie Bruce and Tristen Roure, who earned All-SCCAL First Team honors last season.
“I feel like last year was kind of a little difficult to find my confidence,” said Will Shilling, who was in the starting lineup as a sophomore. “But coming into this year, I kind of feel I know my role on the team. I have my confidence and I feel like I can really put all that together and contribute.”
In the beginning, Shilling was known as the Falcons’ leading scorer. He’s slowly become an all-around player Gonzales can depend on, even if it means guarding the opposition’s best player.
Another key returner from last season is junior Taylor Knox, who is not only a scoring threat but has also become a lock-down defender.
“[Knox’s] really bringing a lot more than just scoring,” Gonzales said. “Everybody seems to be bringing more each time.”
The rest of the Falcons flock features seniors Evan Anderson and Chase Welle; junior Kit DeForest; sophomores Alex Burgos and Oak Silingas; and freshman Teddy Cornish.
The coaching staff expects big things out of Will Shilling and Knox. Gonzales doesn’t want to put too much pressure on the duo but they know the Falcons can soar high whenever the pair play at a high level.
“We’re moving forward and they’re definitely big time, but so is Chase [Welle], so is Evan [Anderson], so is Alex [Burgos], so is Zach [Shilling],” Gonzales said. “They’re all very, very important on what’s going on and we know we need all eight of us to perform and if we’re not, we’re going to be in big trouble.”
Welle can distribute the ball efficiently, and although at times he’s not recording the assists, he still creates shots off a series of passes he initiated.
Zach Shilling has been a high percentage shooter. Gonzales mentioned they have talks before games and during practice to make sure the confidence level is up.
Shilling and Welle are attempting to fill the void after both Roure and Bruce graduated in 2023.
“I think Tristen [Roure] created [shots] for others, and Davie, as well,” Zach Shilling said. “It’s not like we have one guy who’s just gonna go off and drop 35 every game. Our team is holding it together.”
One of the main goals for Gonzales is getting each player to score, which they did against both Independence High and St. Francis.
“Everybody can score, everybody stepped up last year and I feel everybody’s stepping up this year,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales isn’t too worried about scoring, yet he is a little concerned with players taking care of the ball and learning how to close out games for the win.
Scotts Valley’s second-year coach believes facing difficult opponents was great preparation for competing in the SCCAL with the likes of such powerhouses as defending co-champions Aptos and Santa Cruz high schools.
The Falcons will host Aptos in the teams’ SCCAL opener on Tuesday at 7:30pm.
“I’m very excited for league and we’re just ready to roll,” he said. “We’ve seen things that maybe if we didn’t have a tough schedule, we wouldn’t have been seeing that until mid season in the regular season. We don’t have time to do that.”
Will Shilling said at times it was hard to keep their heads up after going through both a three and a four-game losing skid, but it definitely built character along the way.
“Ideally, we would’ve won a couple more games in the preseason, but it definitely takes time to learn how to play with a new team,” he said. “Going into the regular season, we’re happy to come away with these back-to-back wins and hopefully steal a couple against some other teams in the regular season.”
Scotts Valley will continue league play at Harbor High on Friday at 7:30pm, followed by a non-league contest at Soledad on Saturday at 1:30pm.