McClatchy wins first state title with thrilling triumph in two overtimes in Division I final. Senior guards take over in second half for Bishop O’Dowd in Division III triumph. Shot-blocking leads La Jolla Country Day to win in Division V.
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Note: All games played at UC Berkeley’s Haas Pavilion. Division III & Division V writeups by Harold Abend; Division I by Ronnie Flores
MCCLATCHY (SACRAMENTO) 65, SERRA (GARDENA) 61 (2 OTS)
In a matchup of two teams that did not win section titles, it was the program that hadn’t been in this position before that gutted it out down the stretch, and in overtime, to pull out one of the most memorable championship games in CIF state girls basketball history.
With its win, McClatchy became the first Sacramento City Unified School District school to win a CIF girls state title, not in girls basketball, but in any sport. The district’s only boys titles were won by Sacramento in 1972 (boys track) and 1922 (baseball).
“It’s unreal right now,” McClatchy head coach Jessica Kunisaki said in a combination of excitement, exhaustion and relief during post-game interviews. “What a crazy game, I told my kids ‘Why wouldn’t you want to go play extra minutes in your last game?'”
The two teams were ranked right next to each other in the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings (Serra No. 17, McClatchy No. 18) so it’s only fitting the game needed an additional full quarter to decide the outcome.
It looked like McClatchy (27-7) was going to pull the game out in regulation after making a comeback in the final period. Serra, however, made an even more dramatic comeback in the closing minute.
The Lions trailed 36-31 after Serra’s Brooke Bayman connected on a 3-pointer with 5:35 remaining in regulation. McClatchy roared back and eventually took a lead. It then looked like the Lions had all the momentum when junior forward Gigi Garcia had a shot bounce on the rim and in the air four or five times before falling through the net. It gave McClatchy a 43-36 lead with 1:35 remaining.
But Serra wasn’t done.
A series of miscues and clutch shots helped Serra (23-11) get the game to overtime after trailing by 10 points with one minute remaining. A Cavs’ 3-pointer and a dead ball foul on the same play, another 3-pointer and a late turnover set up the dramatic ending. With 6.5 seconds remaining and McClatchy leading 49-46, the Lions were called for a five second violation under Serra’s basket. Then with under 1.5 seconds remaining, Serra’s Briana Johnson swished a 3-pointer from 23-feet away to send the game into overtime and the crowd into a frenzied state.
“We had to push back and play together,” said Johnson, who led all scorers with 21 points. “Just like the Ventura game, I knew we could come back and win, but this time it didn’t work out like that.”
“When she hit it, I just realized that she made a great shot,” said junior guard Kelsey Wong of McClatchy, which lost to NorCal Open rep St. Mary’s of Stockton in the CIF Sac Joaquin D1 title game. “I knew we were okay.”
Wong felt good because she had Garcia on her side. The 6-foot-2 combo forward took over during the second overtime.
Garcia played good defense, grabbed big rebounds, set up teammate Jordan Cruz for a lay-up and made one of her own. Alex Washington, a reserve senior guard, also came up big. She made a field goal to give the Lions a 63-61 lead and with four seconds remaining, she nailed two free throws to seal the historic CIF state title.
“I have never seen anyone better than GiGi,” Kunisaki said of her team’s leading scorer who finished with a team-high 19 points, 20 rebounds and six blocks. “The key was no one broke down or started pointing fingers when we gave up the lead.”
Senior McClatchy guard Lauren Nubla, who controlled the offensive tempo and helped to offset Serra’s pressure defense with confident ball-handling, finished with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Near the end of the first overtime, Serra had the ball under its own basket in a 55-55 ballgame. The Lady Cavs had point blank opportunities, but could not convert. Besides the missed shots near the basket, Serra made 7-of-15 free throws. McClatchy converted 17-of-24.
Besides Johnson, junior forward Brijaye Brackett hit double figures for the Lady Cavs with 14 points. She added 15 rebounds.
“Our inability to make free throws and lay-ups was a big factor in this game,” said Serra coach McKenzie Hadley. “Playing hard has never been our problem. As a coach, you can ask for little more than how hard these girls play for us. I am tremendously proud of these young ladies.”
Serra, which lost to D4 state finalist Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth in the first round of CIFSS Open Division playoffs, 75-54, fell to 1-1 in CIF state finals.
BISHOP O’DOWD (OAKLAND) 55, BREA OLINDA (BREA) 40
The saying “there’s never too much of a good thing” came in handy just at the right time for Bishop O’Dowd, and in this case it came in the form of the Dragons’ two Division I-bound senior guards.
After a lackluster first half for O’Dowd (25-9) that saw the score tied 22-22 after two quarters, the duo of Kansas-signed Aisia Robertson and Cal-committed Asha Thomas were just too much and took over after halftime, putting on a dazzling display of ball-handling and leadership to lead the Dragons to a third state championship in the last four years.
The 15-point victory is already impressive but it was actually 55-33 before O’Dowd head coach Malik McCord took out the pair and others to empty the bench.
The Kansas-signed Robertson had 11 of her team-high 16 points, four of her five assists, and all eight of her rebounds in the second half. Cal-committed Thomas had seven of her 12 points and five of her six assists after intermission.
While most of the good stuff came from the Dragons’ veteran backcourt, sophomore rising star Myah Pace added nine points and 15 rebounds, and two-sport star (soccer) junior Aerial Chavarin had six points, all in the second half, and nine of her lofty 14 rebounds in the final two quarters.
“I told them they had an ‘F’ in the first half,” McCord said about what he told the team at halftime. “Even so, as bad as we played, we still held them to 22 points.”
That tough-nosed defense didn’t stop at halftime. Another big difference was that the defensive intensity of O’Dowd actually picked up big-time in the second half. When the Dragons started to pull away and led 36-27 late in the third quarter, it came as a result of a defense that only allowed Brea Olinda two points in an almost six-minute stretch. By the time McCord got in the subs, the Dragons had outscored the Wildcats 33-11.
“The girls listened to us at halftime, the seniors led, and everyone followed,” McCord remarked.
The leaders McCord was referring to actually fed off each other and their teammates as well.
“My teammates found me in rhythm, especially Teezy (Asha Thomas), and I fed off the energy and their defensive intensity,” Robertson said.
“I knew what I had to do in the second half but I fed off Aisia’s energy,” Thomas remarked.
Brea Olinda (26-5) looked competitive through the first half, and Reili Richardson (game-high 19 points) turned some heads, but the 5-foot-10 junior just didn’t get enough help to hold off the older, more experienced O’Dowd squad.
Senior leader Shaylissa Jarrett played despite an ankle injury suffered in the 52-44 SoCal D3 semifinal win over Orange Lutheran of Orange that hampered her in the 50-46 SoCal D3 title-game victory over Placentia El Dorado. Against O’Dowd, her contributions were limited to six points.
“I was feeling pain but I just wasn’t thinking about it,” Jarrett remarked. “I wanted to give these young girls everything I could.”
The remainder of the young Brea Olinda team got seven points and 13 rebounds from freshman Tyiona Watkins, but the rest of the Wildcats only managed eight points as only five girls scored.
Always colorful Brea Olinda head coach Jeff Sink was gracious in his assessment of his team’s performance.
“It’s a big stage and we played as good a game as we could in the first half – and we held our own on the boards, but we’re so young with seven freshmen on the roster and O’Dowd was just so athletic,” said Sink, who falls to 4-2 personally in state title games while all-time girls title leader Brea Olinda is now 9-3 in state championship contests.
The victory by O’Dowd was a vindication of sorts for a school that had its state title appearance run interrupted last year after the team was disqualified from the playoffs for playing one more game than the CIF North Coast Section allows before the beginning of section playoffs. The state championship also validated the decision of Thomas to come back from a serious knee injury.
Since McCord took the helm six years ago, the Dragons were the Division III runners-up in 2011, the Division III winners in 2012, the Open Division champions in 2013 when McCord was named State Coach of the Year, and then sidelined last year and unable to defend their title due to the disqualification.
“We were playing for ourselves, the seniors from last year too. We knew what it was like for them to have their season taken away,” Pace said.
For Thomas, it’s the culmination of a successful high school career with a state championship in a game she thought she might not compete in.
“I wasn’t sure I could come back (from the injury) but I worked hard and prayed on it – and I’m here now,” said a beaming Thomas.
With its youth and with wily veteran Sink at the helm the team of the future would appear to be Brea-Olinda.
“We’re a year ahead of where I thought we’d be when I came back two years ago. I’m confident we’ll be back. I think we’re one of the best public schools west of the Mississippi or maybe anywhere,” said Sink.
Despite taking two years off from the Brea Olinda girls and coaching the Brea Olinda boys, Sink now has 525 career coaching wins not including his 38 boys victories or the 238 wins and two state titles he had in 13 years at Fairbanks Lathrop in Alaska.
LA JOLLA COUNTRY DAY (LA JOLLA) 40, EASTSIDE PREP
(EAST PALO ALTO) 36
In a back-and-forth game that saw five ties and 13 lead changes, La Jolla Country Day (18-11) got the lead for good at 34-32 on a basket by Mariana Ecija (game-high 14 points) with 3:08 left, and then held on to record a fourth state title for the school as well as 2012 State Coach of the Year Terri Bamford.
“From a satisfaction standpoint, I couldn’t be more pleased with this young group,” said Bamford, who in her 15th season evened hers and the Torreys’ record at 4-4 in state title games. “They believed they could win.”
The big difference in the game was the play of the two big girls for Country Day, Alaysia Styles and Mai-Loni Henson. Styles, a highly-regarded 6-foot-2 sophomore, nearly had a triple-double after finishing with 10 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high nine blocked shots. Henson, a 6-foot junior wing who is rated in the top 15 of the Cal-Hi Sports 2016 class rankings, had an off game shooting-wise and only had two points, but she collected 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Twice in the final two minutes, Henson found Styles on lobs over the top of the defense to give Country Day a 38-34 lead that pretty much sealed the deal. The final two points for the Torreys came on free throws by Isabel Aguirre with 6.8 seconds remaining.
“It was one of those games where my shot wasn’t falling so I just wanted to be a good distributor and get my teammates involved,” Henson remarked.
Still, the big story was Styles, and the improvement she’s shown this season after drawing the eye of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma as an incoming freshman, but not really breaking out until coming back from an ankle injury she suffered in a loss this season to host St. Mary’s on MLK Day in Stockton.
“Alaysia is young and needed to learn to play through things. Her attitude and effort has definitely turned the corner,” Bamford said. “Today was a perfect example. Even though some calls didn’t go her way she put her head down and did the things we knew she could do.”
When asked what helped drive her in the win over Eastside Prep, the well-spoken Styles responded without hesitation.
“I didn’t want to go home crying again like last year,” she said. “I knew what I had to do.”
Last season as a freshman, Styles was part of a Country Day team that took its lumps in a 60-42 D5 state title-game loss to Pinewood.
For its part, Eastside Prep (25-6) was never out of the game, but the Panthers had a horrid game shooting (15-of-59 from field, 3-of-16 three-pointers) and Arizona-bound Destiny Graham did not have the kind of impact she’s had most of the season despite finishing with nine points and 10 rebounds. Eastside was led by freshman Kayla Tahaafe with 12 points. Chacitty Cunningham added 11 points, and made all three of the Panthers’ three-pointers, including one at the buzzer that gave Eastside a 12-10 lead after one quarter.
“Against most teams we can get to the hole and finish, but against them and Styles (pause), she’s just so long and very athletic. Plus, our pressure wasn’t that effective,” said Eastside head coach Donovan Blythe.
“The key for us was in the third quarter when we went to the 3-2 match-up zone,” Bamford said.
When Country Day changed that defense, Eastside went almost eight minutes without scoring after it took a 29-28 lead with 4:06 left in the third quarter. The Panthers’ next score came on a three-pointer by Cunningham that tied it at 32-32 with 4:20 remaining.
Despite the loss, it was still a great season for an Eastside Prep team that went the whole season with six players, affectionately dubbed the SEAL Team Six by Blythe after the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group.
“This is more than a team, it’s a movie. What these six young girls have accomplished it’s no surprise we made it this far,” remarked Blythe, a cancer survivor who was trying to bring the school a first state title after going 1-5 in NorCal championship games in eight years at the Eastside helm.
While the joy of winning could be seen on the faces of the La Jolla Country Day girls, there was sadness this year for Eastside Prep.
“The thing I’ll cherish the most was just playing with the six of us,” said a tearful Graham. “We battled together right until the end.”