Relentless St. Mary’s of Stockton wins its first CIF Open Division title and eighth overall with a comeback against Mater Dei. In Division II, Archbishop Mitty powers to sixth crown, while in Division IV a dynamic duo caps 3-for-4 career in state titles for Sierra Canyon.
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Note: All games played at UC Berkeley’s Haas Pavilion. Open Division & Division IV writeups by Harold Abend. Division II writeup by Mark Tennis.
ST. MARY’S (STOCKTON) 76,
MATER DEI (SANTA ANA) 69
Top-ranked St. Mary’s surprisingly didn’t come out in its vaunted full court press against the well-coached Monarchs, but its combination of speed, attacking style on offense and defense, and long-range shooting was firing on all cylinders.
In what was unquestionably the best game among the three girls’ matchups since the inception of the Open Division in 2013, a young St. Mary’s team was just too much for Mater Dei in the late going and overcame a 10-point third quarter deficit.
With the victory, St. Mary’s (34-1) got head coach Tom Gonsalves a record seventh state title (the school’s total is now eight) but his and the team’s was the first in the Open Division and first state championship since capturing the 2011 CIF Division II crown.
“This was the biggest game in our school history,” Gonsalves said. “We were playing Mater Dei and they are always so good – and this was for the Open championship.”
Baseball legend Yogi Berra had what were coined Yogisms for his sometimes corny rhetorical sayings, but Mater Dei head coach Kevin Kiernan had his own phrase to describe St. Mary’s and it was pretty right on in assessing how the Rams play.
“Our effort was tremendous, the will to win was there, we gave it our best shot, and we scored enough points to win,” Kiernan said. “They’re just a relentlessly good team, relentlessly relentless.”
St. Mary’s may have scrapped its all-out press but did go to a variation of it several times during the game.
“We lost to Mater Dei last season at the West Coast Jamboree and I made up my mind we wouldn’t lose the game the same way by giving up easy baskets,” Gonsalves remarked. “We did press but it was different.”
Mater Dei (31-3) led 47-37 with five minutes left in the third quarter but Connecticut-bound Katie Lou Samuelson was playing with three fouls, and that factor combined with St. Mary’s heating up from the outside began a downslide for the Orange County girls.
Rams’ sharpshooter Kat Tudor hit back-to-back three-pointers that ignited a 17-7 run and the score was tied 54-54 with time running out in the third quarter. “Lou” made a three-pointer to make it 57-54 but with less than a second remaining in the third Samuelson picked up her fourth foul.
The game went back and forth in the early fourth quarter but Mater Dei would take its last lead at 65-63 before Tudor and Carlissa Shipp hit key treys and the inside game of St. Mary’s keyed by freshman Aquira DeCosta and junior floor leader Mi’Cole Cayton cashed in on easy baskets to seal the deal.
Cayton, who has several Division I offers including George Mason, Nebraska, Arizona and Arizona State, plus more, finished with a game-high 21 points, with seven rebounds and six assists. The Rams’ floor general’s penetration was devastating to Mater Dei, particularly late when Samuelson watched helplessly as Cayton flew past her to the basket with Lou unable to risk a fifth foul.
“It’s such an honor to have such a young team like this words can’t explain how proud I am of them and what we have accomplished,” Cayton told Cal-Hi Sports. “I absolutely love this team and I wouldn’t trade this moment for anything.”
DeCosta, who got loose inside and was the recipient of several passes from Cayton and two fourth-quarter assists by the driving and dishing sophomore Sierra Smith (five assists, six rebounds), finished with 15 points.
“We couldn’t guard their guards or stop their penetration,” Kiernan remarked.
Tudor was 4-of-7 from the field, all three-pointers, and finished with 13 points. She ends her junior season with 105 three-pointers and 299 in her three-year Rams’ career. Shipp added 10 points and had two three-pointers including one with 2:25 remaining that gave St. Mary’s the lead for good at 68-65.
Samuelson, who in spite of the loss is still the leading candidate for Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year, finished with a double-double 19 points and 11 rebounds with four assists, all despite being saddled with fouls.
“I got in foul trouble and I couldn’t help my team. I’m disappointed in my play but we wanted it. Everyone gave a hundred percent,” Samuelson said. “I’ve had a great career but I wish I had another year to come back and win it.”
Monarchs guard Andee Velasco played a superb game. The Loyola Marymount-bound senior had a team-high 20 points and five assists. Like the Rams’ Tudor, she connected on four three-pointers.
“Andee kept us in it and picked up the slack when Lou was in foul trouble,” Kiernan said.
UCLA-bound junior post Ally Rosenblum registered a double-double 20 points and 11 rebounds, but of the other six players that saw action for Mater Dei only two scored for a combined 10 points.
Asked about where he ranks this team and if it was his best ever, Gonsalves paused before answering.
“Before now, I would say they’re young and they haven’t accomplished enough, but now they’re in the conversation.”
Prior to getting career state title No. 7 for Gonsalves, there was a momentary logjam at six for the most CIF girls coaching state championships between 2004 State Coach of the Year Gonsalves, 2003 State Coach of the Year Kiernan, 2014 State Coach of the Year and Los Altos Hills Pinewood head coach Doc Scheppler, and 1999 State Coach of the Year Sue Phillips of Archbishop Mitty of San Jose. She got No. 6 in the Monarchs’ Division II state title game victory over Alhambra Keppel about two hours prior to the Open Division tip-off.
With the entire starting line-up returning next season, look for St. Mary’s to be sitting in the catbird seat for the next preseason rankings for the state and likely for the nation.
ARCHBISHOP MITTY (SAN JOSE) 53,
MARK KEPPEL (ALHAMBRA) 31
After last season’s nightmarish outing for the Monarchs in a lopsided loss to Chaminade of West Hills, it was a much more enjoyable experience this time.
With the win, Mitty and head coach Sue Phillips won for the sixth time in a CIF state final compared to five losses. No other coach had more at the time, although in the Open Division final later in the day it was Tom Gonsalves from St. Mary’s of Stockton winning his seventh.
Others with six CIF state titles as a coach in girls basketball are losing Open Division coach Kevin Kiernan of Santa Ana Mater Dei along with Doc Scheppler from Pinewood of Los Altos Hills.
“Every year it’s a different team,” said Phillips, whose team last won a CIF state title in Division II in 2012 but fell 80-51 last year the D2 game to the Eagles. “As a coach, you get salty and never really let go of certain games. But today is not about last year, it’s about this team.”
Keppel, which was appearing in its first state final, actually led 21-20 over the Monarchs (26-6) early in the third quarter. That’s when Mitty (ranked No. 15 overall in the state by Cal-Hi Sports) went on a 10-0 run highlighted by three 3-pointers from sophomore Daniella Guglieilmo.
“It was exciting to lift the team and I was glad I could contribute,” Guglielmo said. “They did a great job getting me open.”
After that run, Keppel was still within shouting distance at 33-22 entering the fourth quarter. Mitty then scored the first five points of that quarter on a three-pointer by Lauren Mewes and a layup by Heleyna Hill.
Hill, just a sophomore, led the Monarchs along with Guglielmo with 13 points. She also had six rebounds and three assists. Mewes, a senior guard, made 4-of-5 shots and had 11 points.
Both teams played sluggishly in the second quarter, but Mitty had a better start in the first quarter and had a 17-11 lead at the break. Mitty’s rebounding with a 22-14 edge and its depth (nine different players scored) were the primary reasons for that score.
“I thought we played good defense the entire game, but our offense was anemic in the first half,” Phillips said. “I knew we’d settle down and take better shots. Dani did a great job in that third quarter and Maddie (Holland) and Lenny (Hill) did a great job attacking the basket.”
Keppel could only place one player in double-figure scoring as Sophia Song (No. 16 in our Cal-Hi Sports Class of 2016 player rankings) had 10 points and also had 10 rebounds.
Standout Keppel point guard Lauren Saiki, however, was saddled with foul trouble, which according to head coach Joe Kikuchi “changed everything.”
Saiki, who played with four fouls for almost the entire second half, scored just one point but her floor leadership was obvious.
“She’s a smart player and knows what to do with four fouls,” Kikuchi said. “We just told her to put her hands in her pocket on defense. On offense, she stayed aggressive.”
Keppel wrapped up a 26-8 season, but probably will drop from the No. 19 overall state ranking it had prior to the game.
“As Asians, we kind of feel under-represented in the state tourney,” said Keppel senior Tammi Matsukiyo when asked about the significance of an all-Asian starting lineup. “We were just proud to be here. We do have a lot of support (from home) for what we’ve done. Now, we hope some won’t take us so lightly.”
SIERRA CANYON (CHATSWORTH) 69,
BROOKSIDE CHRISTIAN (STOCKTON) 56
In a game that was relatively close through three quarters, two-time defending state champion Sierra Canyon trailed only twice at 4-3 and 7-5, and then drew away in the fourth quarter to post a decisive victory that earned the San Fernando Valley school a third straight state title.
While three straight state titles is impressive, it’s still one short of the state record of four that has been accomplished by five different schools.
Sierra Canyon (25-5 and ranked No. 6 overall in the state by Cal-Hi Sports entering the game) led 20-9 after one quarter and 33-23 at the half, but after its lead got to 44-31 with 1:15 left in the third quarter Brookside went on a 9-0 run that made it 44-40 early in the final period. From there, the Sierra Canyon senior trio of Cheyanne Wallace, Kennedy Burke and Gabi Nevill took charge to seal the deal and complete the three-peat.
The Brookside run ended when Wallace, Sierra Canyon’s Loyola-Marymount-bound 6-foot-1 forward, converted a conventional three-point play and then followed that up with a rebound and a put-back that made it 49-41. At that point, the starch appeared to be out of Brookside.
The Stockton girls made a last gasp effort and got it to 51-44 with 4:30 left, but Burke found Wallace underneath for a layup, Nevill scored off a steal and then drained a three-pointer, and then Burke blocked her sixth shot that led to a put-back on the other end, and as fast as the blink of an eye it was 60-46, and this time it was really over with the final score academic.
Wallace finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, UCLA-bound USA Gold Medal Team Member Burke had a double-double 14 points and 14 rebounds with the six blocks and three assists. Nevill had seven of her nine points in the final 4:30, and sophomore guard Alexis Grigsby had a solid all-around game and handled the Brookside press along with Burke. She chipped in with 11 points and eight rebounds.
“I’m very proud of what these girls have done from the first day I was hired. It’s been an incredible journey,’ said Sierra Canyon head coach Alicia Komaki, who since being hired three years ago has won a state championship each season. Sierra Canyon captured the Division V title in 2013 followed the last two seasons with Division IV crowns.
It was pointed out after the press conference by Komaki’s assistants that this is really five straight state titles for Komaki as a coach. The three at Sierra Canyon and two in 2011-2012 as the top assistant for her mentor and Santa Ana Mater Dei head coach Kevin Kiernan when the Monarchs won back-to-back Division I championships.
Brookside Christian (27-4) got a valiant effort from Aarion McDonald. The Washington-committed 5-foot-6 junior point guard played her heart out and finished with a game-high 26 points and an amazing 14 rebounds with four steals. Ra‘Kyra Gabriel added 13 points.
“We came up short today but this game will be a motivation for us to come back and win it all next year,” McDonald remarked.
The bottom line in this one is it was just too much Wallace and Burke. The duo controlled the paint and their physicality was something Brookside attempted to match without success. At times, there was a little extra body contact on the court but the action never got out of hand.
“We’ve played all kinds of competition and some teams like to play us physical and try to get in our heads and get us frustrated, but we were prepared for anything they could throw at us,” was the response of Wallace regarding the rough play.
Brookside head coach Pico Wilburn was trying to join Mater Dei’s Kiernan (Mater Dei and Fullerton Troy) and Bishop Alemany (Mission Hills) head coach Bryan Camacho (Alemany and Burbank Bellarmine-Jefferson) as the only girls coaches to win state championships at two different schools. Wilburn was the head coach at Oakland Tech (Oakland) when that team won two-straight Division I state titles in 2004-2005.
“It’s an honor just to be in a game like this but we played sloppy in the first half and committed too many turnovers,” Wilburn said. “We came back to get to four by putting the petal to the metal but it took all our gas. Bottom line is the better team won today.”
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