NorCal CIF Girls Divisional Finals

Standout sophomore Kayla Tahaafe drives the floor for Eastside College Prep during CIF D5 NorCal final on Saturday at American Canyon. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Standout sophomore Kayla Tahaafe drives the floor for Eastside College Prep during CIF D5 NorCal final on Saturday at American Canyon. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Winners on the day at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento are St. Francis of Sacramento and Elk Grove. Winners at American Canyon High near Napa are Sacred Heart Cathedral, Cardinal Newman and Eastside College Prep of East Palo Alto. Writeups by Harold Abend & Paul Muyskens.

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Division I
St. Francis (Sacramento) 65,
Castro Valley 52

The top-seeded Troubadours (29-5) used runs of 11-0 and 17-0 to overcome 30-18 halftime and 37-24 third-quarter deficits en route to a title game victory.

St. Francis trailed 18-11 after one quarter and an 11-0 run by Castro Valley gave the Trojans a 26-15 lead midway through the second quarter as nothing seemed to be falling for a Troubadours team that shot 1-of-14 on 3-pointers and 7-of-38 overall.

Lauren Craig (24) and Angie Ortiz of Sacramento St. Francis raise D1 NorCal title plaque after win vs. Castro Valley. Photo: Harold Abend.

Lauren Craig (24) and Angie Ortiz of Sacramento St. Francis raise D1 NorCal title plaque after win vs. Castro Valley. Photo: Harold Abend.

However, as is often the case, this game was a tale of two halves. Castro Valley didn’t exactly shoot the lights out in the first half but got better shots than St. Francis.

“We were rushing our shots a lot in the first half,” said St. Francis star and Colorado State-bound Tia Hay. “In the second half we came out with more energy, slowed things down, were a lot more comfortable and waited for our shots.”

The Australian-born Hay led St. Francis with 17 points and nine assists with six steals. Lauren Craig added a double-double 16 points and 11 rebounds, Kyra Huffman also had a double-double after finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds while Janae Fairbrook chipped in with 14 points, eight rebounds and six steals.

“In the second half we wanted to have more patience and the girls exercised that patience,” St. Francis head coach Vic Pitton said.

After the 37-24 deficit St. Francis had its 11-0 run to get it to 37-35 and then followed that up with an 8-0 portion of the 17-0 run that gave them a 45-44 lead after three quarters. The 9-0 portion of the big run was capped by a 3-pointer by Fairbrook that made it 54-44 and from that point the momentum was all St. Francis.

UC Davis-bound Nina Bessolo, who was a teammate of Hay on the Nike national champion Cal Stars team, led Castro Valley with a game-high double-double 20 points and 13 rebounds with three blocks and four steals, but 16 of her points and eight rebounds came in the first half.

“I wanted to do anything to make sure our season didn’t end today,” said the 6-foot-2 Craig, who had 13 points and seven rebounds after halftime.

Besides Bessolo’s effort Castro Valley (33-3) got a double-double 11 points and 10 rebounds from Giana Wright.

“We didn’t loss today because of lack of effort,” Castro Valley head coach Jim Lemmon said. “We lost our composure a little and got out of our rhythm in the second half, but a lot of that had to do with St. Francis.”

Division II:
Elk Grove 46,
Sacramento 45

Prior to taking the floor in the CIF Division II Northern Regional title game, the Thundering Herd girls had not only never played in a Northern Regional title game but they had never even played for a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championship.

None of that mattered because after all was said and done it was Cinderella-like No. 12 seed Elk Grove (24-10) holding on for a 46-45 victory over Sacramento.
CIF logo 216
With the score tied 45-45 and 39.2 seconds remaining, Elk Grove’s Mira Schulman hit the front end of a one on one that ended up being the game’s final points but not the final excitement.

The Thundering Herd held on defense and got the ball back with less than 30 seconds remaining but after getting fouled with 10.8 seconds left, Madison Wong missed the front end of the one-on-one. Sacramento got the rebound and advanced the ball up court where Aliceah Hernadez launched a three-pointer that was short. Adriana Avent got the rebound but her putback at the buzzer was a little short and did not get over the rim.

“They’re resilient, they’re family and they fight and strive together,” said first-year head coach Larry Price, who was at Sacramento Florin for nine years before coming to Elk Grove.

“My heart dropped,” said Schulman about seeing Avent get the rebound all alone under the basket.

Schulman, the team’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game, led the Thundering Herd with 14 points. Despite only being 5-foot-7, junior Paiton Demps finished with a double-double 10 points and 15 rebounds.

Top-seeded Sacramento (24-10) bolted out to a 9-0 lead and led 11-4 after the first quarter and 22-17 at the half, but they were never able to pull away from Elk Grove.

Division III
Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) 70,
Inderkum (Sacramento) 51

The Fightin’ Irish will be back in the state finals for the first time since 2013 and ended the hopes of the Tigers to perhaps walk across the street to play in their first state title game at Sleep Train Arena.

Ilmar'I Thomas of S.F. Sacred Heart Cathedral eyes rebound as she is grabbed during D3 NorCal final vs. Inderkum. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Ilmar’I Thomas of S.F. Sacred Heart Cathedral eyes rebound as she is grabbed during D3 NorCal final vs. Sacramento Inderkum. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Inderkum is the school campus anyone can see right next door to the arena, but if the school ever does get to a state final the trip will be farther since Sleep Train is in its final months of operation.

In Saturday’s regional final played at American Canyon, Sacred Heart Cathedral (20-9) opened the second half with an 11-0 run in the first 3:30 of play to build a big lead that remained comfortably in double digits for the remainder of the night.

“It was a total team effort offensively and defensively,” said head coach LyRyan Russell after the Fightin’ Irish captured their 8th CIF NorCal championship in program history in their 13th trip to the NorCal finals.

Iimar’l Thomas scored 25 points and grabbed 18 rebounds and said after the game that what makes the team so strong is “we all know our strengths and play off each other well.”

The Tigers (24-9) made head coach Phillip Hampton proud after the game and looking forward to next year after a season that saw them hit with three big injuries early on before making a Cinderella-like run as the No. 10 seed in the NorCal playoffs.

Division IV
Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa) 51,
Menlo School (Atherton) 32

For the first time in school history, the Cardinals will be headed to play for a state championship and never trailed during their NorCal championship game win over the Knights who were playing in their first NorCal final since 1991.

“One of the goals when I took this job five years ago was to get to the state championship and I’m incredibly proud,” said head coach Monica Mertle.

Playing Menlo for the second time this season – Cardinal Newman won the season-opener 62-51 – Mertle’s team knew what to expect and held the Knights (21-8) scoreless for over five minutes to start the game on the way to a 10-2 lead.

That lead grew to 26-8 before a run by the Knights to end the second quarter and to start the third cut the lead to 26-19. The lead then stretched back to 10 and it stayed in double digits the rest of the way.

Hailey Vice-Neat scored a game-high 14 points to go with nine rebounds while Lauren Walker had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

“This was a moment that I couldn’t believe,” said Walker.

The Cardinals (29-5) will have a chance to make one more unbelievable moment next weekend in Sacramento when they face Antelope Valley of Lancaster.

Division V
Eastside College Prep (East Palo Alto) 65,
St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda) 59

With some unfinished business to take care of, the Panthers will be headed back to the CIF Division V state championship game after defeating St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda 65-59 in the first of six games at American Canyon.

After a sloppy start to the game for both teams it was the Panthers, behind 10 points in the opening quarter from Alayah Bell, who led 21-16 after eight minutes of play. That lead would be increased to a 17-point lead at halftime with Eastside (19-11) outscoring the Pilots 19-7 in the second quarter.

Bell led the way in the win with 21 points while Zion Gabriel added 15 points. Mira Love-Sangco had a team-high 19 points for the Pilots, who ended 26-9.

“This was the best birthday present,” said Panthers head coach Donovan Blythe after the game as his team sang happy birthday before the post game press conference.

Last season, the Panthers lost to La Jolla Country Day of La Jolla 40-36 in the Division V state championship game.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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