Archbishop Mitty's road to another West Catholic Athletic League boys basketball championship might not be as smooth as it was last season.
But the two-time defending Division II state champion Monarchs managed to survive their league opener Wednesday night, rallying in the second half to edge previously unbeaten and host Bellarmine College Prep 65-63 before an overflow crowd.
Aaron Gordon, despite being swarmed by defenders nearly every time he touched the ball, finished with 28 points to lead Mitty. But the 6-foot-8 forward needed help down the stretch, which he got.
Brandon Abajelo broke a 59-59 tie with a 3-pointer from the top of the perimeter with a minute to play. Matt McAndrews followed with a fast-break layup to extend the Monarchs' lead to 64-59.
But three missed free throws by Mitty and a basket by Grant Vermeer gave Bellarmine (10-1, 0-1 WCAL) a chance to at least send the game into overtime.
Mitty ended the Bells' quest for victory with a steal at midcourt as time expired.
"We know we've got an X on our back," Abajelo said. "Everyone's going to give us their best shot. We've just got to stick to our keys, and we'll be fine."
Bellarmine stuck to its plan for much of the night, and it had a chance to hand Mitty its fourth loss of the season.
Trailing by a point at halftime, the Bells surged to a 45-37 lead in the third quarter when Isaac Gayles stole the ball from Gordon and coasted in for a
Mitty (7-3, 1-0) settled down after a timeout and ended the quarter with six consecutive points to cut the lead to two.
"Guys stepped up," Gordon said. "I didn't have it really rolling in the third quarter and a little bit of the fourth quarter. Guys stepped up and made big plays and got stops on defense."
Mitty also got 17 points from 6-6 forward Brandon Farrell. Vermeer led Bellarmine with 18 points.
Sacred Heart Cathedral 58, Serra 52: Princeton-bound Henry Caruso scored 16 points for Serra, but Sacred Heart Cathedral emerged with the WCAL-opening victory.
Five Sacred Heart players scored at least eight points, led by Liam O'Reilly's 11.
Piedmont Hills 54, Santa Teresa 41: Walter Bateast scored 15 points to lead the Pirates to a victory in their Blossom Valley Athletic League Mount Hamilton Division opener.
Piedmont Hills (9-2, 1-0) trailed by nine points after one quarter but pulled away by outscoring Santa Teresa 15-0 in the second.
Willow Glen 56, Independence 54: Willow Glen remained undefeated as RJ McCune led the visiting Rams (11-0, 1-0 Mount Hamilton) with 14 points.
The victory sets up a showdown Friday night as Piedmont Hills visits Willow Glen.
Palo Alto 55, Milpitas 42: Aubrey Dawkins scored 26 points to lead host Palo Alto to a victory in its Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division opener.
Palo Alto trailed 20-19 at halftime but rallied to take a five-point lead after three quarters and then pulled away in the fourth.
Westmont 57, Branham 54: Savannah Scott scored 15 of her game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter to lead host Westmont to a comeback victory over Branham in a BVAL Mount Hamilton Division opener.
Branham, which is moving up from the Santa Teresa Division to the Mount Hamilton this season, came into the game 10-0. The Bruins took the lead at 16-13 on a 3-pointer by Ashley Parsons at the end of the first quarter and built their biggest lead at 46-34 on Regina Sankey's 3-pointer at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Sankey fouled out soon after that, and Westmont mounted its comeback, closing the game with a 23-8 run.
"That was definitely the turning point," Westmont coach Brent Duren said.
Scott hit a 3-pointer with 3:15 left to bring the Warriors even at 51-51. Westmont's first lead since the first quarter came on two free throws by Scott with 46.4 seconds left. Taylor Morway's foul shot brought Branham within 55-54 with 25.4 seconds to go. But Westmont's Erika Washer closed out the scoring with a pair from the line with 23.3 left. Westmont (8-3, 1-0) held on for the win as Branham missed a couple of 3-pointers in the final seconds.
"We let it slip away," Branham coach Sam Hernandez said.
Scott, who came in averaging 21.2 points, 14.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game, had 14 rebounds, eight steals and four assists.
"I also had her guard (Morway), Branham's best player, at the end and she did a great job," Duren said.
Sankey led Branham with 15 points. Morway scored 13, Parsons 12 and Jessica Mok 11. Washer added 15 for Westmont.
Wilcox 50, Saratoga 23: The teams entered their SCVAL De Anza Division opener with one combined loss, but Wilcox (13-0, 1-0) took charge early, outscoring the Falcons by 10 in the first quarter and turned the game into a rout in the third.
Saratoga fell to 11-2, 0-1.
Gunderson 53, Pioneer 42: Irene Chavez, a senior guard, scored 30 points to propel Gunderson past Pioneer.
Staff writer Glenn Reeves contributed to this report.