Canyon Springs of Moreno Valley & Modesto Christian win their first CIF state championships in Division I and Division III while Pinewood of Los Altos Hills earns its sixth in Division V. Canyon Springs also becomes just second Inland Empire girls team to win a state title. That first one was led by the greatest player in the history of women’s basketball.
(D1 and D5 recaps written by Harold Abend; D3 by Mark Tennis)
(All games at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento; attendance for the day was 6,176)
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Canyon Springs (Moreno Valley) 56, Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove) 30
What looked like it might be a competitive game after two quarters turned out to be a proverbial tales of two halves.
Canyon Springs (25-6) only led 21-15 at halftime, but after staying in the lockerroom right up until the beginning of the third quarter, the Cougars came out roaring to capture the first state championship in school history.
In the school’s first CIF girls final, the 2005 team lost a 64-63 heartbreaker to Oakland Tech.
“We call it a fireside chat,” said a smiling Canyon Springs head coach Gail Hale about what she told the team at halftime.
“It’s one thing if you’re getting outplayed and we weren’t, so I got a little upset at halftime,” continued Hale, who’s been at the Canyon Springs helm for 18 years. “They just needed to be woken up and we had to light them up at halftime, but this is the result. They came out like champions.”
As had been the case throughout the Division I playoffs, Pleasant Grove had no answer for Cheyenne Greenhouse.
The 5-foot-10 San Diego State bound guard followed up a 27-point performance in the CIF Southern Regional win over Bishop Alemany of Mission Hills with 24 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals in the state championship victory, despite only shooting 3-of-14 from the field in the first half and 9-for-24 for the game.
As a team, Canyon Springs only shot 25.9 percent from the field in the first half but improved it to 38.2 percent for the game.
“In the first half, we were just trying to be aggressive and rushed our shots,” Greenhouse remarked. “But when we started listening to the coaches and using the backboard we did much better.”
Junior 6-foot-3 post Charnea Johnson-Chapman got into foul trouble in the first half but still finished with a double-double 10 points and 17 rebounds with five blocked shots.
Canyon Springs didn’t shoot the lights out but Pleasant Grove started cold and stayed cold. After shooting an abysmal 17.9 percent from the field in the first half, the Eagles could only turn the temperature up a notch in the second half and finished at 22 percent for the game.
Pleasant Grove (25-10) was the Northern Regional champion despite not winning a section title, and in fact the Eagles were knocked out in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals.
At that point, the possibility of making it to the Division I state title game seemed remote.
“We joked about it saying we need to save something for the state championship, but no I really didn’t think we’d be here, but we got this far and that’s great,” said Pleasant Grove post Aaliyah Pena.
The 6-foot-1 UC-Riverside bound Pena had six points and seven rebounds. Brittany Nguyen led Pleasant Grove with eight points and three assists.
With the win, Canyon Springs also becomes only the second girls team from the Inland Empire to win a CIF state championship and the first in 32 years. The only other IE team to capture a state title was the Cheryl Miller-led 1982 team from Riverside Poly.
“It is the Promised Land in California high school basketball to win a state championship,” Hale remarked. “I’m overwhelmed right now and I won’t sleep tonight. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Modesto Christian 64, Santa Barbara 55
In the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, especially with national powerhouse St. Mary’s of Stockton nearby and with seven CIF state crowns, it’s easy to overlook the solid program that head coach Robb Spencer has built at Modesto Christian.
It’s time to put the Crusaders in a different light. They are now a CIF state champion for the first time following their win over a Santa Barbara squad that just didn’t quite have the depth and athleticism to keep pace.
“The third time is the charm,” said Spencer, whose team (27-8) lost in the 2002 Division V state final to La Jolla Country Day and fell in the 2009 Division IV state final to Mater Dei Catholic of Chula Vista. “We’ve been on the other end of these games and this feels amazing. I just respect these girls so much.”
At halftime, the Dons (30-6) were down by just 27-25 and stayed close throughout, mostly due to the ability of sophomore guard Amber Melgoza to collect free throws. Melgoza, who averaged nearly 22 ppg, finished 20-of-28 from the stripe to set CIF state title game records in both categories. She surpassed the previous bests of 17 free throws made by Mariya Moore of Richmond Salesian last year in D4 and 20 attempts by Moore in the same game.
“Probably in the eighth grade one time maybe I shot that many free throws,” said Melgoza, who also tied a D3 record with 30 points. “But my jump shots, layups, nothing was falling. It felt like a cap was on (the basket).”
Another problem for Santa Barbara was Modesto Christian’s huge advantage in rebounds. The Crusaders enjoyed a whopping 64-37 edge and they used many of those second-chance opportunities to open up a double-digit lead by early in the fourth period.
“We’ve been a second half team all year,” Spencer said. “We just seem to get after it and go. All the work put in since August and all the learning, we just put it all on the floor.”
Modesto Christian’s biggest second half wasn’t this week, but last week in the Northern California final as the girls overcame a 17-point deficit to stun Enterprise of Redding.
“Any time we got back-to-back points it gave us energy,” said Modesto Christian senior Lexi Tubbs, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds. “Last week made us know that anything is possible, but we also learned that anything that can happen like that can happen to us.”
In addition to Tubbs, another double-double was chalked up by sophomore Lailoni Gaines with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman Meagan Warwick also had 11 points while senior Jasmine Hampton had 10 points.
“This was our 10th straight playoff game and that can be tough,” said Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Butcher, who completed his 32nd season. “In the summer, we were a dismal team, but somehow, someway we got it together.”
Modesto Christian also overcame an 0-5 start to the season, but those losses were to CIF state finalists Canyon Springs and Archbishop Mitty plus three CIF Open Division teams.
“We were in each game, down by two to Bishop’s at halftime and in the fifth game against St. Mary’s (Stockton) we were up by two in the fourth quarter before we lost by 14,” Spencer said. “That gave us confidence.”
Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) 60, La Jolla Country Day 42
This was a game between two teams that were not unfamiliar with state championship appearances. Coming into the game they had played in 13 state title games combined, with Pinewood having a 5-2 record and La Jolla Country Day at 3-3.
With the victory, Pinewood wins a record-tying sixth state championship for head coach Doc Scheppler. He now joins Kevin Kiernan of Santa Ana Mater Dei and Tom Gonsalves of Stockton St. Mary’s for the most state championships by a girls head coach. It was also win No. 504 for Scheppler, who is never short on colorful quotes after his team has won a state championship.
“What did LeBron (James) say about winning titles? Seven, eight, nine, 10, it never gets old. The goal is always to be the best,” Scheppler quipped about now being tied for the most state championships.
In our predictions, we had Pinewood winning by six points, and while most analysts felt this would be a close game, it was anything but close.
Pinewood (30-3) trailed only once at 2-0 but when Chloe Eackles converted a three-point play the Panthers had a 3-2 lead they never relinquished.
It was 15-6 after one quarter and 39-13 at the half, and at that point La Jolla Country Day had more turnovers (18) than points. Pinewood stretched it to 48-18 in the third quarter before Country Day made a run and Scheppler took his foot off the gas pedal.
Junior point guard Marissa Hing led Pinewood with 17 points, including 13-of-16 from the free-throw line. The sister duo of senior Leeana Bade and junior Gabi Bade had 13 points apiece, while Eackles added 10 points.
“The first half is not characteristic of how we play, and unfortunately we let it get away from us, but Pinewood is a well-coached, high IQ basketball team,” said a disconsolate Country Day head coach and 2012 State Coach of the Year Terri Bamford.
La Jolla Country Day (20-12) got a game-high 18 points from sophomore Mariana Ecija and a double-double 12 points and 16 rebounds from sophomore Mai-Loni Henson.
To get to the game, Pinewood pinned a surprisingly lopsided 61-38 loss in the NorCal D5 title game on a Stockton Brookside Christian that owned a 19-point win over CIF Central Coast Section Open Division champion San Francisco St. Ignatius.
“The win over Brookside developed confidence and belief in ourselves,” Scheppler remarked. “Coming into this game, I just knew we would be prepared.”
The victory also erased the memory of last year’s Division V state championship 47-33 loss to a Chatsworth Sierra Canyon team that is now in Division IV and playing tomorrow for a second straight state title.
“Last year we were really nervous and not really confident,” Leeana Bade said. “I remember being here when we won two years ago, and even though we lost last year being here before gave me confidence.”
Scheppler pretty much summed it up.
“The stars were in alignment for us and we were ready to play our best, but to actually play our best game of the year on the biggest stage, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports