St. Mary’s of Stockton unleashes a full arsenal in becoming the first team in the 28-year history of the San Diego Classic girls basketball tourney to win three top division titles in a row. Go inside for recap of this year’s event, including Pinewood finishing third and details about Fullerton Troy coach Roger Anderson’s recovery from a harrowing motorcycle crash.
For complete results and brackets for the San Diego Classic go to www.SanDiegoClassic.com.
Note: Our girls basketball analyst, Harold Abend, would not be able to travel at all this summer without the support of four sponsors: the Cal Stars club team, West Coast Jamboree, San Diego Classic and Mission Valley Sheraton. Cal-Hi Sports thanks all of them.
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It was one of the more competitive San Diego Classic 3A divisions in the 10 years in which the Cal-Hi Sports Girls of Summer caravan has been covering the largest girls summer high school basketball tournament in the nation.
In the end, it was the swarming defense and the emergence of a fresh young face that propelled St. Mary’s of Stockton to a third straight 3A Division title, after a 59-54 Sunday afternoon victory over an excellent Oregon City squad.
To say “a star is born” might be a little much to pronounce about an incoming freshman, but the way St. Mary’s 6-foot-1 post Aquira DeCosta played at the 28th annual edition of the San Diego Classic is going to have her on the radar screen of everyone and anyone that follows girls basketball.
DeCosta dominated the paint and pretty much anywhere on the court she could get her hands on the ball, but her signature performance came in the title game where she had a double-double 21 points and 17 rebounds with five blocked shots.
To beat a team like Oregon City, however, which is one of the perennially top programs on the West Coast, took more than just one girl.
Point guard Micole Cayton, whom the Girls of Summer caravan had playfully chided about not attacking the basket, did just that, and although she took some lumps the incoming junior had a breakout game.
Cayton more than held her own against the Oregon City D1 backcourt recruits of Cierra Walker (20 points) and N’Dea Flye (eight points, six assists) and finished with 11 points, five assists and four steals.
Besides Cayton, three other St. Mary’s players were keys to the team’s maniacal, stifling defense.
Incoming sophomore Sierra Smith, who is bigger and stronger this summer, had eight points and three steals, and along with Cayton was one of the primary reasons Flye fouled out in the final minutes of the title game. As usual in the championship games the last three years in San Diego, incoming junior Angel Johnson played much bigger then the 5-foot-8 listed in the program. She helped DeCosta take on the Oregon City big girls in the paint and was also effective outside on the press. Johnson had six points, four rebounds and two steals. Kat Tudor didn’t have her best game offensively, and the three-point sharpshooter only made one trey, but her defense was outstanding, she drew some key fouls and made her free throws, and finished with seven points.
Still, after all was said and done, the buzz was about DeCosta, who performed two no touch-down put-backs during the tournament, and the fact her biggest performance came without head coach Tom Gonsalves ranting and raving, and driving her and the other girls on from the bench.
Immediately after all the awards were presented by Cal-Hi Sports, Gonsalves was on his cell phone making inquiries.
“How did Aquira do?” asked Gonsalves, who had to return home to be with his ailing son after the Rams’ 55-17 Saturday night semifinal victory over Corona Centennial.
What DeCosta did was become the first incoming freshman to ever be named the Cal-Hi Sports San Diego Classic Most Valuable Player.
Besides the double-double against Oregon City, DeCosta had a second one with 11 points and 10 rebounds despite seeing limited action in a 49-19 blowout of Long Beach Millikan. She saw limited action in a couple of other thumpings the Rams administered en route to the title but still finished with 75 points, 60 rebounds and 16 blocked shots for the six-game tournament.
“She’s only an incoming freshman? I thought you told me she was a freshman already. That’s remarkable. I agree. She’s the best player here,” said an astonished Tournament Director Wade Vickery as he watched the title game action with the Girls of Summer caravan at the scorer’s table.
The second-best player was the left-handed sharpshooter Walker. She’s an incoming junior who is getting lots of Pac-12 looks according to successful and very savvy Oregon City head coach Kurt Guelsdorf.
The doctor was in the house
In the third place game, defending Division V state champion Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) rebound from a 60-49 semifinal loss to Oregon City with a 43-33 victory over Corona Centennial.
Division V State Player of the Year and UC San Diego-bound Marissa Hing (2015) delighted the locals by taking control like they hope she’ll do in two seasons on the very same RIMAC Arena center court. The 5-foot-2 point guard finished with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Incoming senior and University of Buffalo-commit Gabi Bade added 10 points and Chloe Eackles chipped in with seven points, four rebounds and three blocks.
Before going into a Howard Cosell rendition that Wade Vickery’s wife Nancy recorded while cracking up, the doctor was a little more serious, particularly with Pinewood almost assuredly being moved into the Northern Regional Open Division for the 2015 playoffs.
“Going 5-1 in a field like this, I’m happy with that, as long as the girls have goals of getting better. We have everyone back and Nia (incoming 5-11 senior post and Mitty transfer Nia Craig) eligible. My frustration is our execution was a little sloppy. We have to start playing at a higher level and execute like Oregon City.”
For a summer high school tournament, and for a team that doesn’t play a grueling summer schedule, the caravan thought Doc’s girls made an excellent showing, proved they are one of Northern California’s top teams regardless of school size, and deserving of a Top 20 preseason state ranking. The addition of Craig in the block should be a big help.
The team Pinewood beat in the third-place game is the new sleeper from the Inland Empire. With the success of Corona Centennial teams in other sports, it’s not a complete surprise, but in girls basketball the team has consistently produced 20-win seasons. Still, in the seven years head coach Martin Woods has had the helm, the girls have never advanced past the first-round of the CIF SoCal Regionals.
“Once I get these girls practicing together and the young ones integrated this team will look a whole lot different,” Woods remarked after the shellacking by St. Mary’s.
Even so, the “Fort Knox” senior duo of unrelated 6-1 Arianna Knox and 5-11 Brijanae Knox looked very good, particularly in a 37-32 victory over a Bingham (Utah) team fresh off an upset of La Jolla Bishop’s.
Lucky to be alive
Eight teams advanced to 3A championship Pool 1 play on Saturday, the winners and runners up in Pools A, B, C and D.
St. Mary’s got there with Pool A wins over Arroyo Grande, Santa Ana Foothill and Long Beach Millikan.
The Rams then slid by Troy (Fullerton) 35-29 to begin Pool 1 play before putting the hurt on Corona Centennial.
The fact Troy is competing and that head coach Roger Anderson is at the helm is pretty much a miracle considering what happened to Anderson in early May.
While driving his motorcycle on the freeway and doing around 60 miles per hour, Anderson was sideswiped by a vehicle doing 70 and changing lanes. Anderson went into the center divide.
The Troy coach suffered multiple fractures to his ankle, blew out his knee, and is having problems with his shoulders, hips and back. But there he was in San Diego pacing the sidelines using a cane, and with his foot and ankle in a boot.
His girls lost the fifth place game in a heartbreaker, 36-34, to La Jolla Country Day. All-State honoree and incoming junior Barbara Sitanggan led the way as she did almost all tournament and finished with 11 points.
A predominately underclass La Jolla Country Day got a double-double from All-State incoming 6-foot junior Mai-Loni Henson. She is bigger and stronger this summer, and was one of the top players in San Diego. Henson finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Another girl to look for from Country Day, and a player who has been getting a lot of rightfully-deserved recruiting service hype, is Alaysia Styles. The 6-foot-2 incoming sophomore is still a work in progress but at times showed why some analysts like her potential for the next level.
The 2A title game went to Cajon of San Bernardino, in an exciting 43-42 victory over Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills. Cajon star and incoming junior Kayla Washington led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend