WATSONVILLE — Jason Gallo said he picked up a summer job at Nob Hill in Capitola.
The 6-foot-5 forward made playing basketball look as mundane as bagging groceries at the supermarket on Tuesday night.
Gallo recorded 27 points, 13 rebounds, four steals and three assists in two and a half quarters to lead the St. Francis High Sharks to a 64-34 season-opening victory over the Pacific Collegiate School Pumas.
The senior was the lone returning starter from last year’s league, section and NorCal champion squad that saw the floor on Tuesday.
Last year’s leading scorer, senior forward Chase Watkins, is rehabbing an abdominal injury and is expected to be out until early January. The other three are gone after graduation, along with five others that were all a big part of last year’s historic run to the program’s first-ever California Interscholastic Federation state championship game.
“I feel like right now I have to push it more so that I can help our team get better,” Gallo said. “Right now, they’re not used to it so I have to lead by example.”
Junior point guard E.J. Kelly, the only other holdover from last season, added 12 points, seven assists and five steals for St. Francis, which continues its season on Thursday at the Bob Hagen Memorial Tournament in Gilroy.
Six other players scored for the Sharks. Junior guard Andrew Seymour chipped in eight points and junior forward Aaron Soto finished with six.
“It’s always great to win,” Kelly said. “We’ve got a new squad out here — a lot of fresh faces. It feels good to get the ball rolling here and hopefully keep it going forward.”
Gallo dominated from the opening tip until he exited the game midway through the third quarter with the win well in hand.
He scored six of the Sharks’ first eight points and led St. Francis to a 36-9 advantage at the half with 21 points over the first two quarters.
Gallo capped off his night with an impressive steal and finish, which put the Sharks up 31.
St. Francis pushed the lead to 33 before the end of the third.
“For a first game, I thought there was a lot of positives,” said head coach Ed Kelly — E.J.’s father. “The kids did a good job and played well. They got some of the jitters out on the first night.”
Despite trotting out four new starters and not having practiced much because of a senior retreat last week, the Sharks looked like a tight-knit bunch on defense as they built up their big lead in the first half.
St. Francis forced P.C.S. (0-2) into 14 turnovers over the first two quarters and turned several of those takeaways into points.
Junior forward Ben Ghilarducci led the Pumas with 10 points and six others scored for P.C.S. but the lanes did not open up until after the Sharks had jumped out to their 30-point lead.
It also didn’t help that the Pumas had no answer for Gallo on the boards. Four of his 13 rebounds were of the offensive variety.
“It’s always nice playing with a guy who is 6-5,” E.J. said. “Jason does a great job of working hard and getting rebounds. He’s never selfish with it either. He’ll get a rebound and dish it out. That’s what makes us and all-around threat.”
Gallo’s brilliance on the offensive glass could have led to an even more lopsided result but several of the newcomers were somewhat unwilling to shoot from deep despite having open looks.
The confidence to shoot those open shots, coach Kelly said, will come in time.
“The biggest challenge is that we have all these new guys and getting them to understand what it’s like to play in a varsity game,” the coach said. “The speed and strength and intensity is so different than a J.V. or freshman game…They’re probably going to have to take a couple of right hooks to the jaw to actually learn that.”