LIVINGSTON — As the 50-plus former players and opposing coaches lined the baseline of the court now named after him, Livingston High boys basketball coach Angelo Naldi got caught up in the moment.
Hundreds turned out to see the small-town legend coach in his final home game on Friday night. It was a culmination of a 33-year career that forever changed the school and community of Livingston.
With Merced Union High School District superintendent Scott Scambray and a couple other members of the school board on hand, the Wolves beautiful gym was forever dubbed Naldi Court.
The only thing missing from the storybook night was a victory. But in many ways, Ceres 42-33 victory was a microcosm of Naldis storied career. His Livingston squad, executing a defense that theyd had in place for a week and a half against a team that beat them by 33 in their first encounter, pushed a more talented basketball team by giving maximum effort.
I told the kids before the game that as long as they worked hard, they would be successful, Naldi said. I told them that all the alumni in the crowd that were back to see us play were successful. If they just followed the example that they set, they would do well.
When they surprised me with all my former players it was hard. With even one kid from that first JV team, they spanned the full career. That really touched me.
Livingston (8-18, 1-10 Western Athletic Conference) played like it was desperate to send Naldi out a winner.
The Wolves forced 20 turnovers and had bodies on the floor for every loose ball. It was the kind of effort necessary to overcome a 4-for-27 shooting performance in the opening half.
Senior center Harmon Chung gashed Livingston for 12 of his game-high 16 points in the opening half, but the Wolves limited the rest of the Bulldogs to just five points and went into intermission down 17-10.
Especially considering theyd only known our triangle-and-two defense for a week and a half, I thought we did an excellent job denying them, Naldi said. Guys that really hurt us the first time couldnt get easy shots away. Its just too bad we dont shoot very well.
The Wolves put their shooting woes behind them in the third quarter, almost doubling their first-half baskets. Harman Singh (team-high 13 points) and Ravendeep Sangha (six points) led the way, combining for 10 points in the third quarter.
The Livingston defense kept Chung off the board in the third, and Singhs steal and layup tied the game at 24-24.
Ceres Nick Burt answered, however. The junior scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half and his and-one layup to close the third quarter put the Bulldogs (14-11, 6-5 WAC) up for good.
I felt like if we could keep it to a one- or two-possession game we had a shot, Naldi said. If it got to a six- or seven-point lead we were going to be in trouble.
Ceres opened its lead to seven to start the fourth quarter, but Livingston refused to go away.
The Wolves got to within two, but could never get it any closer.
Singhs steal and layup with 51 seconds trimmed the Ceres lead to 38-33, but the Bulldogs would put the game away at the free-throw line.
Even with the loss, the night belonged to Naldi.
Its a well-deserved honor for him, Scambray said. His influence goes far beyond the basketball court there. Hes going to be hard to replace as an athletic director, basketball coach and shop teacher.
Plus, he makes the best tri-tip sandwiches before football games.
Sun-Star staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or email@example.com.