State No. 1 Rams win first NorCal Open Division title by making shots in the first half to build solid lead and go on to beat Miramonte of Orinda 67-52. Go inside here for recaps of all of the NorCal girls championship games both from Sacramento and American Canyon. Other winners were McClatchy (D1), Archbishop Mitty (D2), Bishop O’Dowd (D3), Brookside Christian (D4) and Eastside College Prep (D5).
Note: Associate editor Harold Abend covered the games played at American Canyon.
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St. Mary’s of Stockton girls basketball head coach Tom Gonsalves has said many times since the CIF began its open division concept four years ago that “there really is only one state champion and that’s the Open Division.”
Gonsalves said it again on Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena, but this time it was after his team advanced to play for a chance to win its first Open Division state title with a 67-52 triumph over Miramonte of Orinda.
“Those other teams that win titles can be called divisional state champions or something like that, but they’re not really state champions,” he said. “They can call themselves that, but I’m sorry I just don’t see it that way.”
The Rams (33-1), who moved up to No. 1 overall in the state two weeks ago when previous No. 1 Mater Dei of Santa Ana lost for the second time this season to Chaminade of West Hills, will now play the Monarchs in next week’s Open Division final. Mater Dei defeated Chaminade 48-44 in Saturday’s SoCal Open Division final.
The team that St. Mary’s beat by 15 on Saturday has been among the state’s best all season, too. The Matadors (30-3) were No. 5 overall in the State Top 20 entering the night and were hoping to reverse the result from last year’s NorCal Open Division final when they lost to Salesian of Richmond.
“They were getting dribble penetration in the first half that led to open threes,” said Miramonte head coach Kelly Sopak. “We had a couple of runs at them, but they just keep coming at you. The have a lot of firepower on the offensive end.”
In one of those runs, Miramonte sliced into a 44-29 halftime deficit with an 8-0 run, but the Rams quickly responded with a 14-0 run to regain control.
Junior Kat Tudor had one of her best games for St. Mary’s as she made 5-of-9 from long range and ended with 16 points. Carlissa Shipp also made three 3-pointers in the first half for nine points.
Other leading scorers for the Rams were Mi’Cole Cayton with 11 points and freshman Aquira DeCosta with 10. Gonsalves also had high praise for sophomore point guard Sierra Smith, who almost didn’t play due to the flu.
“She hadn’t been in school all week and it wasn’t until right before the game that we saw how she was,” Gonsalves said. “She does such a great job running the team and we really needed her.”
The Rams also made it a point to force other players besides junior standout Sabrina Ionescu to beat them. Ionescu only scored 11 points. The others did some damage – Keana delos Santos had 18 and Uriah Howard 11 – but just not enough.
In other NorCal girls finals played at Sleep Train Arena:
McClatchy (Sacramento) 58, Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) 49
It wasn’t as easy as when these two teams played in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 semifinals and the Lions won by 16, but they pulled away in the fourth quarter after the two teams were tied 42-42 entering that quarter.
In winning, McClatchy advances to its first-ever CIF state final and won the school’s first-ever NorCal title. This came after the Lions lost in the section finals to overall state No. 1 St. Mary’s of Stockton (which went to the NorCal Open Division).
Sophomore Jordan Cruz and junior Gigi Garcia both had stellar outings for the Lions, who improved to 26-7. Cruz knocked down four 3-pointers, displayed relentless intensity and ended with a game-high 19 points. Garcia, a 6-foot-4 post and a leading candidate to be the Sacramento Bee’s Player of the Year, had 15 points and nine rebounds.
“It wasn’t our best offensive game, but it came down to heart,” said McClatchy head coach Jessica Kunisaki. “Down the stretch we got extra steals and extra possessions.”
Senior guard Isamar Conde shined for Oak Ridge (27-5) with 10 points and 17 rebounds. Teammates Yumi Drossos and Shelby Peters had 12 points and 11 points, respectively.
“It’s really special,” Kunisaki said in regards to the school advancing a team to a state final for the first time. “The community supports us so much. So many people follow us and come up to us. In the section playoffs no school had more fans than us.”
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 63, Dublin 49
A 16-0 run to start the third quarter erased a 30-26 halftime deficit and enabled the Monarchs to win their 11th NorCal title and second straight in this division.
“We had a moderate energy level in the first half,” said veteran Mitty coach Sue Phillips, whose team improved to 24-6 and should move up from No. 20 overall in the state. “We told them they have 16 minutes left in the season. They had been out-rebounded by 10 but were only down by two field goals. Then to come out a play like that is a true testament to them and to their basketball IQ.”
Sophomore Heleyna Hill sparked the second half surge for the Monarchs. She led all scorers with 24 points and when she plays well it’s normally a great sign for her team. Jahnay Anderson, who made five 3-pointers in last year’s NorCal D2 win over McNair of Stockton, made 2-for-4 this time but had a stronger overall outing and finished with 18 points.
The Gaels (29-4), who were making their first-ever appearance in a NorCal final, were led by Jojuan Carrington with 13 points and Tiaja Andrews with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
In NorCal girls finals played at American Canyon High (all writeups by Harold Abend):
Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 72, Vanden (Fairfield) 55
Second-seed Bishop O’Dowd bolted to a 19-9 lead after one quarter, built it to 36-16 at the half, and then stretched it to 57-28 late in the third quarter before coasting home in a surprisingly easy win over No. 1 seed Vanden.
O’Dowd (24-9) had three girls in double-figure scoring led by sophomore Myah Pace with a double-double 18 points and 10 rebounds. Aerial Chavarin added 14 points and Kansas-bound Aisia Robertson chipped in with 10 points and four assists. Cal-bound Asha Thomas, who returned late in the season from a knee injury, controlled the game early and finished with nine points, five assists and three steals.
“We’ve had flashes but this was the most complete game we’ve played all year,” O’Dowd Coach Malik McCord said.
Vanden (30-4) was appearing in its first NorCal title game. The Vikings were led by Pepperdine-committed Kayla Blair with a game-high 21 points. Kiana Moore added 11 points.
O’Dowd now improves to 4-0 in Northern Regional title games and will go for a third state championship on Friday afternoon at Cal’s Haas Pavilion. The Dragons were the 2013 Open Division champions and also won the 2012 Division III title.
Last year, the girls were disqualified from the playoffs after playing one game more than the 26 allowed by the CIF North Coast Section before the beginning of the section playoffs.
“We used what happened last year as motivation,” Robertson remarked. “We didn’t want this to be our last game.”
Brookside Christian (Stockton) 53,
Fourth-seed Brookside Christian bolted to a 13-4 first quarter lead and stretched it to 42-21 in the early third quarter before holding off a furious comeback by No. 6 seed Piedmont.
Washington-bound guard Aarion McDonald led Brookside (27-3) with 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Florida Atlantic-commit Ra’Kyra Gabriel added a double-double 15 points and 10 rebounds with five blocks and three assists, and Ariana Vaughn also had a double-double after finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Piedmont (21-12) had three girls in double-figure scoring. Ny’Dajah Jackson led the way with 16 points. Kelea Dennis had 13 points and 13 rebounds and Kelsey Fennell added 10 points off the bench.
“It feels so good to get (the school) back to the state championship,” McDonald said. “This is what we’ve been working so hard for this season and the last three years.”
Brookside is now 2-1 in NorCal regional championship games. The 2012 team also was the CIF Division V state champions. This year’s team will now face defending CIF Division IV state champion Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) next Saturday morning at Cal’s Haas Pavilion.
Eastside Prep (East Palo Alto) 36, Valley Christian (Dublin) 28
For Eastside Prep, the fifth time was a charm. After four appearances in the Division V Northern Regional championship without a win, the Panthers were victorious behind 19 points from Brije Byers and nine points and 17 rebounds from Arizona-bound 6-foot-3 senior Destiny Graham.
“I’m excited and ready to get ready to play for a state championship,” Graham remarked.
Top-seed Eastside Prep (25-5) never trailed and the only tie was 2-2 in the first minute.
A big factor in the game was the play of Byers. With Valley Christian concentrating its efforts on stopping Graham, it left things open for the Panthers’ senior guard.
“I don’t usually attack the basket that much but with them overlooking me it gave me an opportunity to attack and that’s what I did,” Byers said.
“I’ve been there,” said Eastside head coach Donovan Blythe, who was on the staff of 1993 boys Division V state champion Emery of Emeryville. “I told the girls let me lead and I’ll get you to a state championship.”
Second-seed Valley Christian (31-4) was making its first-ever NorCal title game appearance and fought gamely despite a horrid 11-for-51 overall shooting and three-for-21 on 3-point shots.
Eastside Prep will now play for the CIF Division V state championship next Friday at Cal’s Haas Pavilion against La Jolla Country Day.
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