The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

Head coach Mike Marcial was on the road, racing toward San Jose for his College of San Mateo men’s basketball team’s season opener last Thursday in the San Jose City College Tip-Off Classic.

Mike Marcial

Mike Marcial

Marcial couldn’t be there for the Bulldogs’ 84-75 win over San Joaquin Delta. His grandfather Manuel Pablo Marcial died Oct. 28 at age 92, and the funeral service was held last Thursday in Fresno.

The young CSM men’s basketball program has had two coaches with the team since it was restarted in the summer of 2018 — Marcial and assistant coach Mike Barton — so Marcial gave the reins to Barton for the season opener, with Marcial turning into the Bulldogs’ biggest fan.

“He’s our assistant that has been with us from the beginning and he did an incredible job, being as I was able to listen to the game on the radio coming back to the Bay Area,” Marcial said.

The season opener was quite the comeback thriller. The Bulldogs trailed 43-38 at the half but relied on the all-around play of sophomores Sam Manu and Bobby Arenas down the stretch.

Manu, an Aragon graduate who transferred to CSM from City College of San Francisco, went for 22 points and eight rebounds, while shooting 8 of 9 from the free-throw line. Arenas, an all-Coast Conference guard as a freshman in 2019-20, totaled 17 points and six rebounds.

Freshman point guard Antonio Abeyta turned in the pivotal play down the stretch, according to Marcial. Playing in his first collegiate game, Abeyta turned in a modest night on the stat sheet with eight points and two assists. But it was a stellar defensive moment that turned the tide for the Bulldogs.

“He took a charge late in the second half that I think really swung the momentum our way,” Marcial said.

With Marcial back at the helm, CSM breezed through the next two games in the round-robin tournament to open the season with a 3-0 record. Friday, the Bulldogs trounced Lassen 95-63, and Saturday they walloped Merced 102-60.

“We’ve got a lot of good young men that are just working hard … and just guys playing together on the court,” Marcial said.

In CSM’s first season in 2019-20, the team’s start was the exact opposite as the Bulldogs dropped their first three games. The Bulldogs went on to a sturdy season in their first go-around, posting a 14-15 overall record while finishing in fifth place in the eight-team Coast Conference-North with an 8-6 mark.