by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior post Tyler Gutierrez puts up a leaner in the paint in the second quarter against Southridge. Gutierrez scored 11 points in the second half.

To kill a snake, you have to cut off its head.

When the Sunset boys’ basketball team began designing its gameplan for beating Southridge for the second time this season, its efforts centered around halting AJ Monterossi — the Skyhawks’ motor, leading scorer and assist man.

Frustrate Monterossi, get the ball out of his hands, make the other Skyhawks score, and Sunset’s fifth straight Metro win would be settled, the Apollos said.

Throwing different defensive looks and contrasting-sized defenders at the all-league guard, Sunset ruffled Monterossi to the tune of seven points and four assists. Southridge’s supporting cast, on the other hand, couldn’t keep up with freewheeling, hot-shooting Sunset, who took the contest, 68-49, on Thursday.

“It was everybody knowing where he is at all times,” said Sunset senior forward Jeff Bieber of slowing Monterossi. “Defensively, as a team, we were always around him, always corralling him and making sure he had someone contesting his shot. We didn’t let him drive and made him take tough twos.”

Bieber was one of many long-armed, athletic defenders tracking and mirroring Monterossi’s every move on the night, along with Glenn Tanguy, Taylor Harris, Mikey Fey and Michael Kerns. Sunset came out scorching in the first quarter, hitting five threes, including two each from Tanguy and Harris. More than great shooting, the Apollos held Monterossi without a point in the first quarter and took a 19-10 lead after a Fey drive-and-jump-pass to Willy Pflug for another triple.

Tanguy and Harris both had eight points in the first quarter.

“Primarily, it was our defense,” said Tanguy. “We kind of shut them down. We didn’t let them do what they wanted to do, so they had to go to their second and third options every play. We outrebounded them and outworked them. I think our hustle paid off in the end.”

“We kind of got away from our transition,” said Monterossi. “We pride ourselves on getting out and being the quick team. They slowed us down, and I think that’s one of the reasons we got off to a slow start.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset shooting guard Mikey Fey drives to the basket against Southridges Griff Christiansen in the first quarter of the Apollos win on Thursday.

Monterossi did a good job of taking what the Skyhawks gave him and set up Aly El-Mansy and Griff Christiansen with threes off the pick-and pop in the first half. But, Sunset kept Monterossi on his toes, switching ball screens at times, and jumping him with hard hedges that prevented the all-Metro guard from going North-to-South to the hoop.

“They jumped on us, and I think we let it get to us a little bit,” said Monterossi. “Instead of turning around and matching their physicality and energy, we let down. I’ll put that on myself. I think my team follows me sometimes, and when I’m not hitting, people feel nervous and scared. I just have to put this one behind and go back to work tomorrow.”

Southridge swished four threes in the second quarter and closed within 27-25 with 3:15 to go after a Hudson VanAllen triple from the right wing. Yet, Bieber’s offensive board and putback, coupled with free throws by Harris pushed the halftime lead to 31-26.

“I’m proud of how we battled,” said Monterossi. “The scoreboard doesn’t say we battled, but we tried hard. This is a tough loss, but we can’t take this out on ourselves. We can’t think we’re a bad team. We’re a good team. We’re one of the top best, and I know we can play with anyone. We just have to have that mindset.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior wing Jeff Bieber rises high for a left-handed finish during the Apollos big win over Southridge on Thursday.

Isaiah Reel’s boundless drive down the left baseline brought Southridge to 41-36 with 3:16 left in the third, but Sunset answered with a 12-0 run to snatch a 53-36 lead and swing the game in their favor. Tanguy made two of three free throws and finished a righty lay-up after a fullcourt outlet dime from Fey. Josh Brown made two free throws to pad the lead to 48-36. Harris hit his fourth three of the game after a pass from Pflug to extend the advantage out even further, then the 6-foot-4 senior grabbed a board off the glass, took off in transition, pulled up in the lane to avoid a charge and put home a floater to punctuate the deciding spurt.

“Everyone got involved, everyone did their part,” said Bieber. “It was a total team win all around.”

The way Sunset blistered the nets against Southridge, the rim must have looked like the size of a hula hoop. Getting whatever they wanted, whenever and wherever they wanted offensively, the Apollos won searing the Skyhawks with unabated execution and eight three-pointers from downtown.

Southridge took away Sunset all-league post Tyler Gutierrez in the first half, holding the senior to zero points. However, the Skyhawks’ doubling of Gutierrez in the paint left deadeye shooters like Harris and Tanguy free to fire from three-point land. Sunset sizzled all night and turned the contest into uninhabited target practice because of its ability to create wide open looks from the inside, out.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior post Griff Christiansen hoists a jump hook over Sunset in the fourth quarter of the Skyhawks home defeat on Thursday.

“We started getting hot early and started getting confidence,” said Tanguy. “I think that played out for the rest of the game. I thought we did a good job hitting shots early, defending their perimeter and also getting the rebounds.”

“I think we all believe we can shoot,” added Bieber. “Our team shooting is some of the best in the state, I think. And, when we inside-out threes, it’s the best. It was flowing early and often. Getting the ball inside and punching it back out is definitely what we had planned and what we executed.”

Parker Gaddis’ lay-up after a Monterossi steal trimmed the deficit to 53-42 early in the fourth quarter. However, Gutierrez got on track by powering home back-to-back old fashioned three-point plays in the fourth quarter to balloon the advantage to 61-42 with 4:01 to go in the fourth. Christiansen led Southridge with 10 points. El-Mansy tacked on eight, while VanAllen and Reel each had six.

Harris led the Apollos with 22 points and Guitierrez scored all 11 of his points in the second half. It was the contributions of Tanguy (12 points), Fey (nine points) and Brown (four points, three offensive boards), however, that leapt out on the postgame scoresheet.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior shooting guard Hudson VanAllen rises for jumper in the fourth quarter of the Skyhawks loss to Sunset on Thursday.

“It takes the load off their shoulders,” said Tanguy. “We know they’re going to be consistent every night and the other teams know that. Getting the other guys going helps (Harris and Guitierrez). We can play as a team instead of relying on a couple of guys. That really played well for us tonight.”

Sunset was able to match and defeat Southridge’s depth by playing nine guys of its own, all of whom chipped into the Apollos’ eighth straight win. It was the first time Sunset’s beat Southridge at The Cage and swept the season series with its Metro League rival since 2010.

“We just take it day-by-day,” said Bieber. “That’s how we stay grounded. We’re not believing any of the hype. We’re just working hard.”

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