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Last Positas hosts NorCal Regional opener Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. at The Nest

The Hawks played 12 games against teams who were selected for the NorCal playoffs. They won seven of them. One of the five losses included an overtime thriller against Chabot, which would’ve been their biggest win of the season. Of the Hawks’ 28 games, 15 were decided by single digits. They are 5-5 in games won by six points or fewer. 

Las Positas men’s basketball has had its struggles this season. But these Hawks enter the postseason battle-tested.

“I don’t focus on the end-of-season things during the season,” coach James Giacomazzi said. “Because, really, it’s a process and I believe in the process. It’s the daily stuff that we do that will lead to better results. So I just try to focus on that and then the end result usually takes care of itself.”

On Sunday, Feb. 25, the Hawks were awarded one of 18 at-large bids selected to the NorCal Region of the California Community College Athletic Association (3C2A) playoffs. Las Positas was given the No. 16 seed and will host the first-round matchup against No. 17 Los Medanos on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.

This is the ninth consecutive season the Hawks have made the playoffs, including all eight seasons with Coach James Giacomazzi at the helm. In four of the previous seven postseasons, the Hawks have managed to make it to the sweet sixteen. Even if Las Positas beats Los Medanos, which features one of the most explosive junior college offenses in the state, the Hawks would have the No. 1 team in California waiting for them: 28-0 West Valley College — in Saratoga.

But first, the Hawks (17-11) will have to deal with the Mustangs (20-8) from Pittsburg. LMC has the 20th highest-scoring offense in California at 81.9 points per game. The Mustangs also made the 14th most 3-pointers (248). They are led by the scoring of sophomores Devin Carson, who led the Bay Valley Conference in points per game with 22.8, and Ramon Bailey, who averaged 19.0 

Las Positas and Los Medanos played 11 common opponents in their schedule, including twice against three of the teams. The Hawks went 10-4. The Mustangs went 13-1.

Still, Las Positas enters the postseason playing their best basketball of the season. The Hawks won four of their last six games, and the two losses were close games to ranked opponents. The strong finish to the season is why they’re in the playoffs and hosting a playoff game.

After winning 13 of their first 16 games, the Hawks’ season derailed when they began Coast Conference-North play with six consecutive losses. Three of those losses were by three points or fewer. 

A big factor in their slow start was their youth. The Hawks have only four players returning from last year’s team: guard CJ Ward, forward Jajuan Mitchell-Cox, forward Nay’veon Reed and guard Joseph Mangonon. The other key players — guard Sterling McClanahan, twin guards Elijah and Eliot Mobley — were all freshmen. Arguably the team’s best player, guard Alex Martin, who leads the Hawks with 17.6 points per game, is a sophomore. But this is his first season with Las Positas. He played for San Mateo last season and missed the final five games of the season, including the Bulldogs’ playoff game.

The inexperience caused the team to struggle at the end of close games, particularly against the tough opponents of their Conference, which many considered to be the best in the state. 

But along with the gut-punching losses, the Hawks were getting experience. They avenged three of their close losses by beating Skyline, Ohlone and Cañada. Fueling this resurgence was better defense and a greater collective effort. In their two road wins over Ohlone and Cañada, the Hawks held both to fewer than 70 points — something they had done once in their previous seven Conference games. The team also seemed to play with more synergy, leading to better ball movement and better shot selection.

“We’re not going to deviate from the fact that we had a rough start,” Reed said. “But we’re starting to pull through, we are coming together now and starting to mesh together and it’s starting to really look good.” 

The Hawks then narrowly lost in overtime to Chabot, which was ranked No. 20 in the state at the time. They followed that with a 12-point loss at City College of San Francisco, the No. 3 team in the state. Chabot ended up the No. 6 seed in the NorCal Regionals, while San Francisco is the No. 2 seed. 

The Hawks ended the regular season on a high note with a home win over San Mateo, another playoff team (No. 19 seed).

“The shot distribution has really improved,” Giacomzzi said. “So the balance has gotten there so (that) it’s not just a focus on certain guys. Now we are making the right basketball play and looking for the right player to make that play. … We are doing a better job in terms of transition defense. That was an Achilles heel early in the first half of the Conference.” 

The defense, especially in transition, is going to matter against Los Medanos. The Mustangs have scored 80 points or more 13 times. They’ve scored at least 90 points five times and cracked the century mark twice. Las Positas is 0-6 when allowing 80 points or more. 

Los Medanos has won 13 of its last 15 games. Its only two losses during that span came to Bay Valley Conference champion Yuba, which earned a No. 5 seed in the NorCal Regionals.

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