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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

25 years later: SHS’s version of a staggering March Madness upset

Mike Davey
Class of 1998 shooting guard Luke Weger hits a clutch three-pointer with around four minutes left to extend the Falcons’ lead to 58-52.

Police cars rolled up to Seaside High on Feb. 26, 1998, as the final buzzer sounded for the Saratoga vs. Seaside CCS boys’ basketball game. The scoreboard read 62-58 and the Falcons sprang into celebration with the 10 friends and 15 parents who had come along to cheer for them. Looking at the scoreboard, the Seaside fans who packed the rest of the gym stood stunned. There was no crime, except for that the undersized Falcons had just robbed the heavily favored Seaside Spartans of a game almost everyone was sure they would win.

“By the end of the game, it was close to bedlam,” history teacher and 1998 basketball coach Mike Davey said. “The police took us to the locker room and escorted us to the bus because there were threats against us for beating Seaside.”

The No. 1-seeded Spartans were the favorites to win the CCS championship and came into the game with a 21-5 record in a higher league than the No. 16-seeded Falcons, who had gone 16-10.

Davey said CCS officials had to change the next round’s location after the game because they had already planned for the Spartans to play their next round at Monterey High.

Beating all odds, the No. 16 seeded Falcons knocked off the No. 1 seed, just like Fairleigh Dickinson upsetting Purdue in this year’s March Madness. The scrappy, sharp-shooting Falcons went back and forth with the Spartans throughout the game and separated in the second half to a 62-58 win. Though they fell short in the next round, losing the quarterfinals  68-49 against No. 8-seeded Capuchino, their Seaside win is still possibly the greatest underdog story in CCS history.

“This game will always be the biggest upset in CCS history,” Davey said. “I don’t think it will ever be duplicated.”

The Falcons started that season 5-0 before their star player, small forward Mike Black, the 1998 athlete of the year, sprained his ankle and the team’s expectations shifted from winning the El Camino League to just making CCS. 

In getting to that first playoff round, the Falcons first had to beat Los Gatos in a CCS play-in game. Since they beat the Wildcats 60-40 in an away game earlier that year, the Falcons boasted home court advantage and won 49-48 in a packed gym and electric win-or-go-home atmosphere.

“I was kidding with the Los Gatos coach at the time: We were saying, whoever loses owes the winner a dinner because we’d have to go get our tail blasted by Seaside,” Davey said.

The Seaside team featured a Division I-committed senior, 6’ 6” Shawn Patterson, who averaged 16 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks a game, and two players who went on to play at the junior college level.  

Saratoga had no college prospects whatsoever. Seaside had multiple 6-foot plus players who could dunk; the undersized Falcons made their points from the 3-point line, and not above the rim as the Spartans did.

The Falcons were outmatched in every way: speed, size, strength and athleticism. Other than 6’ 6” backup center Adam Weiskal, who did not get significant playing time, the tallest Falcons stood  around 6’ 1.” 

Adding to the obstacles, Davey lacked scouting tape because none of the teams in their league shared videos of their game play — he only had one video from a college coach he knew who filmed a game to scout out their college-recruited players. 

“He sent me a video an hour before the game and I was just fast forwarding through the video, trying to catch anything that would give me a glimmer of hope of what to do,” Davey said. 

All over his scouting report, he scrawled descriptions such as “ball handler,” “scores inside,” “big time driver” and “big shooter,” but also occasionally noted “out of control at times” and “lose vision of their men.” 

Noticing Seaside was a bit carefree with the ball,  Davey decided to play a two-thirds court 1-2-2 press on defense in hopes of slowing down the pace of the game to neutralize the Spartans’ athleticism in transition. 

“They were a transition, super athletic, dunking the ball, run and gun type team,” Davey said. “We were not that way, and we were able to set the pace of the game that we wanted early. I think they just were in utter disbelief that we would press them,” Davey said.

However, 90 seconds into the game, the Falcons’ play and gameplan execution wasn’t working: Seaside built a quick 4-0 lead, dunking on a Saratoga player and forcing two Saratoga turnovers in. At the time, even Davey thought the game could turn into a blowout, especially seeing his players’ fear of the large, hostile crowd and the Spartans’ intensity.

“I called timeout and screamed at our kids because they were so scared,” Davey said. “I wanted them to be more scared of me than they were the other team. My goal at that timeout was not to correct them, but to chew them and say, ‘This is who you are, and this is not who you are right now.’”

It worked. Black scored a hook shot off a flex cut quickly after the timeout. The Falcons started executing the game plan, successfully slowing the pace with their press and limiting turnovers on offense with Class of 1998 point guard Ryan Anderson facilitating.

“It was a pretty intelligent group of players that we had,” Davey said. “They were normally poised and knew how to run the game. I think we had some confidence going in having beaten Los Gatos right before that, so we didn’t crumble when we went down early.”

The rest of the first half, the Falcons hung around, always keeping the deficit to single digits. Saratoga trailed 35-28 at halftime. According to Davey, the Falcons’ press was not intended to force many turnovers, but it did anyway because Seaside was “obviously unprepared” for it and threw careless passes such as long lobs intended for dunks that instead flew out of bounds.

The Falcons went on a 19-10 run to begin the third quarter behind three 3-pointers from Class of 1999 shooting guard Geoff LaMotte. 

“We knew we could play with them,” said LaMotte, who lives in the area and now works at Google. “When we made that third quarter run, we really believed we could win this game. It was, ‘Let’s do what nobody thinks we can do.’”

 The Falcons carried the momentum in the fourth quarter, and around the 3-minute mark, Class of 1998 all-league shooting guard Luke Weger hit his second fourth quarter 3-pointer out of the corner, while his brother, Class of 2000 guard Micah Weger, banked in a pull-up jumper on back to back possessions. The Falcons’ lead ballooned to 8, with the crowd looking on in disbelief.

Luke Weger led the team with 15 points, while Black scored 14 and LaMotte drained four 3-pointers for a key 12 points off the bench. Micah dropped 9 points and would end up making first-team all-league the following year and win El Camino league MVP in 1999-20. 

All season, Davey had placed pure shooters like LaMotte and Luke Weger in the corner, where they could spot-up for a 3-pointer every time their defender helped on a drive. This strategy keyed the epic upset, as the Falcons hit eight 3-pointers including five in the second half.

In the locker room after the game, the players dumped ice water on Davey in celebration and some cried tears of joy. LaMotte was one of the players who cried tears of joy with his teammates that day.  

“We had to be darn near perfect to win that game. And we did it,” LaMotte told The Falcon. “The joy in the locker room afterward was really special.” 

The Falcons did not gain their edge from miracle shooting performances or any physical advantage, but rather by the experienced, senior-heavy roster playing a measured and controlled game, Davey said. The seniors had “been through the war before” and understood that a lower scoring game with fewer possessions for each team would raise their chances to win, and accordingly they never rushed to get their shot.

“We probably shot as well as they did, but we got better shots that game,” Davey said. “We executed much better than they did with setting screens or running plays.”

For Davey, the milestone upset still serves as a representation of what an underdog can achieve. In the 1980s, Saratoga basketball had not won 10 games in a year for over a decade. They broke the streak in the 1992-93 season, going 14-10 in Barry Mendenhall’s second year as head coach. The year after, a young Davey took over and began emphasizing playing smart.

“We can be successful at this sport because we are bright and educated as a school,” Davey said. “[Our success] is just a testament to our students’ work ethic. We aren’t the most athletic and we aren’t the biggest, but we can succeed at anything if we give it our effort and we believe in ourselves. There’s a lot of metaphors in that team for what Saratoga High was back then and what it is today still.”

The 1997-98 team’s ideology and inspiring underdog story created a longstanding shift in Saratoga’s basketball culture. The 1998 season was the first year the Falcons played in CCS as a Division III — in 1997, the team placed 6th in their league and did not make CCS. In 1996 and previous years, the team played in the less competitive Division IV.

After success in 1998 from focus and methodical game planning, the Falcons brought back the same mindset for years to come. The two years after, the Falcons won the El Camino league, placed higher seeds in CCS and advanced to the second round again in 1999, further expediting the program’s winning culture.

This idea of producing basketball success through intelligent play is still present today. On paper, the Falcons did not necessarily belong in the boys’ basketball A-league this year since the school is the smallest school in the league by over 700 students, Davey said. Still, the team still went 6-6 and enjoyed a fairly successful season.

Luke Weger, who now coaches varsity basketball at California High, also still remembers this game fondly. Although the odds were stacked against him and his teammates, he felt proud about each player’s full commitment to the concepts Davey had preached.

Weger attributes the outcome of the game to the team’s coachability. The team was willing to try any game plan that Davey set forth and were confident in it.

Weger also credits the win to the clarity of the team dynamic — no player set out to score 30 points per game or average an outstanding statline. Each game, the team’s only objective was to win.

Ultimately, the result of the game impacted more than just the future of the Saratoga men’s basketball team — alumni members of the ‘98 team still live by many philosophies that stemmed from the game.

The result of the game taught LaMotte the power of teamwork and proper leadership and brought him closer to Davey as well as many of his teammates. In fact, Davey is even the godfather to LaMotte’s daughter.

“In my work and as a parent, everything stems down to how you can build something that is greater than individual parts and how you cannot make it about yourself, but something bigger,” LaMotte said. “The win against Seaside was a byproduct of thinking in this way.”

LaMotte recalled that even though Seaside had better individual players, they lacked proper teamwork and began to point fingers as the game progressed after they made a few mistakes. On the other hand, LaMotte said the Falcons had stronger leadership under Davey, who “set examples as a great coach,” and a higher level of maturity among team members.

For LaMotte, however, the greatest lesson he learned from the game was the importance of maintaining faith and staying confident in matters where it may seem impossible to do so.

“I’m a man of faith and that game [against Seaside] reinforced my faith and some of the prayers leading up to the game,” he said. “It was an important lesson that the odds were stacked against us, but we had to fundamentally believe that we could win. Otherwise we wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

Saratoga ‘98 team:

Coach: Mike Davey (winningest boys’ basketball coach in SHS history with 243-154 record)

Assistant Coach: Rusty DeHorn

Starting lineup (all seniors): point guard Ryan Anderson, shooting guard Luke Weger, small forward Mike Black, power forward Cory Schwaderer, center Oliver L’Abbe

Seniors: Mike Black (1997-98 first-team all-league), Luke Weger (1997-98 second-team all-league), Ryan Anderson, Jason Ng, Matt McKenna, Jeremy Devich, Cory Schwaderer, Oliver L’Abbe

Juniors: Jack Chiang, Geoff LaMotte (1998-99 first-team all-league), Arthur Akimoto, Matt Garapollo, Adam Weiskal, Andre Sorba

Sophomores: Micah Weger (1998-99 first-team all-league, 1999-2000 league MVP), Paul Zebb

Where are they now? The Falcon was able to track down what some of the players are doing these days: 

Rusty DeHorn: employee at a storage company

Mike Black: runs his own construction firm in Los Gatos

Geoff LaMotte: works at Google

Adam Weiskal: physical therapist living in the Bay Area

Luke Weger: coaches varsity basketball and works in special education at California High School

Jason Ng: works at Apple

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