by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset center Tyler Gutierrez puts up a baseline jumper of a Century post in the third quarter of the Apollos' win on Friday. The senior big man scored 22 points and grabbed 8 rebounds.

One game into the season, and the Sunset boys’ basketball team looks geared up for what’s going to be a challenging preseason, and even more difficult Metro League.

Brushing off the first-game-of-the-year wear and looking like a 6A tournament team for stretches, the Apollos got out to a big lead against Century, and cradled it in the fourth quarter for a season-opening 56-52 win on Friday night.

“I thought it was a great way to start the season, It’s always good to get a win in the beginning,” said senior center Tyler Gutierrez.

“We were a little rusty, but you have to expect that in the first game,” added senior guard Taylor Harris. “I’m just glad we got the win.”

Headed up by the senior combination of the 6-foot-8 Gutierrez (22 points, 8 rebounds) and 6-foot-4 point guard Harris (13 points, four assists), Sunset went on a 13-1 run in the second quarter that was sparked by a switch to a 2-3 zone on the defensive end. Startled by Sunset’s size and big wingspans, Century threw up misses from the outside and inside the key, which allowed the Apollos to clear the glass and start their offense against an unsettled defense.

“In (the 2-3) we’re such a long team, such an athletic team,” said Gutierrez. “It’s hard to score on us in that defense. I think that was a big part of it because it helped set up our offense, too. We just started playing to our strengths.”

Sunset head coach Todd Sherwood switched to the 2-3 mostly to utilize Sunset’s scope of long-limbed defenders like the 6-foot-4 combo of Harris and Kerns, who silenced Century’s star point guard Jamel Liggins. Liggins could never freely shake the Apollos’ zone, and if he was able to get in the lane, Gutierrez or Josh Brown were there to contest the guard’s floaters.

“Our length is a big help,” said senior wing Michael Kerns. “It’s hard to make passes, hard to see. You can close out to shooters and cover the whole court.”

Harris hit the go-ahead three that put Sunset up 17-15, cashed in two free throws, found Willy Pflug for a fastbreak lay-up and also tacked on the highlight of the night. With a handful of college coaches watching the senior headman from the stands, Harris drove through Century’s defense and dropped off a dish to Gutierrez who flushed the offering on the dome of a powerless Jaguar for the two-handed jam.

Gutierrez powered home Kerns’ missed jumper just before halftime to put Sunset up 25-16 at halftime. The big man in the middle for the Apollos scored Sunset’s first eight points of the game, grabbed four boards and blocked two shots in the first quarter alone.

“I was just hitting tonight,” said Gutierrez. “We have a bunch of good shooters on our team, so they can’t double down too much because I’ll kick it back out. That helps me a lot down low.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset combo guard Taylor Harris penetrates to the lane against Century's point guard in the second quarter of the Apollos' season-opening victory over the Jags. Harris had 13 points and 4 assists.

Sunset preserved its positive stretch of solid hoops in the third when Jeff Bieber steered into the lane and found Pflug for three from the right wing. A couple possesions later, Kerns spotted Pflug in transition, and the junior guard nailed another triple, this time from the right corner to go up 34-20 with 5:35 left in the third. Harris buried a pull-up three of his own, after Pflug’s second triple of the quarter.

“Once we started moving the ball, it started to work out better,” said Pflug. “We started making shots. Guys got hot, and we really made getting rebounds a priority. Once we did that, we started being successful.”

Each outside splash down was set up by great contain defense by the Apollos, who went back to a man-to-man deployment in the second half. By keeping their bodies in front of the Jags without fouling, but still contesting the shot, Sunset was able to get stops while also holding Century to just one shot on the boards.

“They didn’t get too many shots up, we kind of slowed them down and played our game on the other side,” said Pflug, who finished with eight points.

Senior lefty point guard Glenn Tanguay hit Sunset’s fourth three of the third quarter after Gutierrez drew a double team in the post.

Then, Charles Wenzel banked home a reverse, left-handed lay-up after a sweet backdoor pass from sophomore Zach Niebergall to give the Apollos their biggest lead of the night, 44-26, at the end of the third.

“If we get inside-out threes those are good shots,” said Kerns. “We can rely on that throughout the year, if we’re making them.”

Brown’s offensive board and lay-up put Sunset up 48-31, though Century boomed back with a 9-0 run that pulled the Jags within 48-40.

Century clipped the score to 50-44 with 1:02 left in the fourth, but Kerns stole a pass, and Harris made four free throws down the stretch to stave off any chance of defeat.

Sunset has about as ambitious preseason as any team in 6A by playing in Central Catholic’s home tournament this coming weekend and the nationally-renowned Les Schwab Invitational from Dec. 27-30. The Apollos will also face 5A power Milwaukee, Sherwood, Barlow and Grant after New Year’s Day before beginning Metro League Play.

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