Crespi of Encino follows up last year’s Division IV state title by beating Berkeley in this year’s Division I championship. The other two winners on the day at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento are Manteca (D3) and St. Joseph Notre Dame (D5). Pilots’ head coach Don Lippi also makes history by recording 800th career win. Division I recap written by Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis.
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After winning a CIF state title last year in Berkeley, the Crespi of Encino boys basketball team earned one on Thursday night at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento over a team from Berkeley.
The Celts withstood a Berkeley High rally in the third quarter to follow up last year’s Division IV title game triumph at Haas Pavilion over Capital Christian of Sacramento with a 68-53 win over the Yellowjackets in this year’s Division I final.
With the win, Crespi (33-4) also may end up finishing as high as No. 6 in the final Cal-Hi Sports overall State Top 20 depending on what happens in Saturday night’s CIF Open Division state final between No. 1 Chino Hills and No. 4 De La Salle of Concord.
“We won games in a lot of different ways,” said Crespi head coach Russell White. “The difference between this year’s team and last year’s is confidence.”
De’Anthony Melton capped a great season and career by scoring 24 points and getting 17 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals to lead the Celts.
Melton made his biggest impact in the third quarter after the Yellowjackets had taken a 37-36 lead midway through the third quarter. He scored three baskets in a 9-1 run that re-established Crespi’s lead and his two free throws made the score 49-41 to start the fourth quarter.
“We were disappointed because we couldn’t play with the best, like Chino Hills and Sierra Canyon (in the Open Division),” said Melton, who will play next at USC. “It was like it was ripped from us because we know we’re up there with those teams.”
It wasn’t a great start to the season for Crespi, however. In the very first game, some of the high expectations were diminished with an upset loss to Peninsula (Rolling Hills Estates) at the Pacific Shores Invitational. And not only that, but senior Mitchell Mykhaylov went down with a lower leg injury that at first was feared to be very serious.
“After he went down, we found out the next morning it was a sprain,” White said. “We played four or five games without him and won those games. Would we have won this game without him? I wouldn’t best against us but I prefer to have Mitch.”
The senior exited the game with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
“Could I have imagined us playing for a state title that day against Peninsula? No, it’s too long of a journey,” White added. “We were just trying to get better each day and each game.”
The Yellowjackets (24-9) hung tough in the first quarter and in the early moments of the second quarter before the Celts went on a 15-3 run to gain some separation. The run included a 3-pointer from Melton and two baskets by Brandon Williams, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Berkeley was playing in its first CIF state final since 1924 and fell to 1-3 in all-time appearances. All three earlier appearances, in fact, were in the non-modern era, including a 21-15 win over Fresno in 1924 and losses in 1921 to Long Beach Poly and 1916 in the very first state final to Whittier.
“We wanted it so bad we were forcing some shots,’ said Berkeley head coach Mark DeLuca, whose team had risen to No. 19 in the state this week. “But you have to give Crespi a lot of credit. They’re a solid team and we just couldn’t contain Mykhaylov and Melton inside and gave them too many easy baskets.”
“All in all I love coaching these boys at Berkeley,” DeLuca remarked. “They have a ton of heart. No one expected us to be here but we got here.”
Senior guard Niles Malone topped the Yellowjackets with 18 points while junior Sean Spikes used his bulk and outside shot to score 14 points and corral a team-leading eight rebounds.
Manteca 60, Ayala (Chino Hills) 51
In a game matching two public school programs that had never played in a CIF state title game before Thursday afternoon, it was the team with the most impactful player on the floor that won its first title.
That player was Manteca’s Kenny Wooten, a dynamic 6-foot-8 leaper who sat out his junior season and didn’t play organized basketball until his mother urged him to try out for the Buffaloes’ team in ninth grade.
Without him, the Buffaloes lost in the first round of the NorCal regional playoffs in 2015, but he made atones with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 blocked shots while only missing two shots from the field. With the win, Manteca became the first San Joaquin County public school to win a CIF state title since 1928, when Stockton High School was victorious in the last
season of the CIF’s original state format.
Wooten was dominant from start to finish, as he blocked a shot in the first 10 seconds of the game, had a big-time follow up dunk near the end of the third period (Manteca led 41-32 entering the fourth) and closed the game with a tomahawk two-hander that sent the Buffaloes’ bench into a frenzied state.
“My junior year, I took the time to develop,” Wooten said. “But I couldn’t imagine us getting this far this year. After the team lost in NorCals, I promised them we would get sections (a section title) this year, but we got something more.”
With Wooten and 6-foot-9 Anand Hundal controlling the boards and 6-foot-8 Tydus Verhoeven playing inside-out and scoring in a variety of ways, Manteca (28-6) dominated the game statistically. It out-rebounded Ayala 45-23, with Verhoeven turning in a productive double-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists and Hundal contributing nine points and 11 rebounds. Manteca shot 59 percent (23-of-39) from the field to Ayala’s 29 percent (20-of-70) — but still the Bulldogs (34-4) had a chance to win and trailed 41-38 early in the fourth quarter.
Leading 33-19 at halftime, Ayala outscored Manteca in the third quarter, 13-8, after a bushel of Buffaloes’ turnovers, poor ball-handling and odd shot selection. Manteca had 25 turnovers, while smaller Ayala, the CIFSS Division 2AA champions, only had four the entire game. Relaxing with a lead and having lapses is a problem that has plagued the team all season, according to head coach Brett Lewis.
“That was one of our worst third quarters we’ve ever played,” Lewis said. “We’re big and we rebound the ball; that was one of our strengths, but at times we play sloppy.”
Ayala got off to a slow shooting start and the length and timing of Wooten was a factor, according to Ayala’s top inside player, senior John Edgar Jr. Ayala’s Austen Awoskia, the team’s top perimeter player and bound for Cal-State Fullerton, struggled. The 6-foot-3 point guard finished with two points on 1-of-9 shooting.
“It was hard rebounding for me in there, both offensively and defensively,” Edgar said. “Especially Wooten, he’s definitely one of the most athletic players I’ve played against for sure.”
Manteca, which lost 69-57 to league rival Weston Ranch of Stockton in the Sac Joaquin Section D3 title game and to that team three times overall, also received a lift from the strong community support during its historic run to a state title. Manteca’s team had a police escort and a ton of its residents were on hand as well for the team as it was leaving for Sleep Train Arena.
“We came together as a family; those losses (to Weston Ranch) humbled us,” Verhoeven said. “We wanted to fulfill the potential we had on this team. It was emotional to have the community support, but we had to settle down and play the game.”
St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda) 55,
St. Bernard (Playa Del Rey) 50
With the competitive equity model employed for the SoCal regional playoffs, this game was a perfect opportunity for NorCal to pick up a victory, especially with the Vikings going up against a program and coach that has been there before.
Sure enough, the more experienced team with the state title winning coach pulled out the victory with help from the youngest player on the roster.
After Robert Fuller of St. Bernard (19-17) picked the pocket of St. Joe’s Jade Smith and drove in for a lay-up with 21 seconds remaining to pull within two of the Pilots, the Vikings had to foul to give themselves a chance. With 11.1 seconds remaining, Smith was fouled hard and had to be replaced by a provisional shooter. That turned out to 5-foot-6, 130-pound freshman Kobe Keiner.
“When Jade went down, I had an idea I might be called, but I was hoping Jade got up,” Keiner said.
“I told him, ‘Son, you’re a freshman, go out there and have fun,” said St. Joe head coach Don Lippi, the only coach in state history to win section titles in four different CIF sections. ” I let him know, it’s okay to miss, but it’s okay to make them, too. He is a good shooter, that’s why I put him on the floor.”
Keiner went to the line and calmly made both free throws and when the Vikings turned the ball over, Lippi had secured his fourth CIF state title with the program and win No. 800 in his career that also included stops at Skyline of Oakland, St. Ignatius of San Francisco and St. Patrick-St. Vincent of Vallejo. St. Joseph won D5 state titles in 2014 and 2011 and in one in D4 in 2004.
Smith, one of the state’s best junior guards and a starter on the Pilots’ 2014 team, had a big game scoring and did damage on the defensive glass for the NCS D5 champions. He scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. St. Joseph held the game’s rebounding advantage, 31-29.
St. Joseph (26-9) got a big outing from freshman power forward Adam Campos. The burly first-year player had eight rebounds and 12 points, none bigger than his driving bucket with 39 seconds remaining that gave the Pilots a 52-48 lead. Campos and St. Joe’s other role players stepped up after junior guard Darne Puckett (14 points) fouled out with 2:12 remaining.
St. Bernard, which finished tied for second in the Del Rey League behind state power Bishop Montgomery and has never won a state title, was led by Fuller and Julian Ross, both senior guards. Both finished with 15 points.
The two teams shot approximately the same percentage from the field and the line, but St. Joseph seemed to get to more 50/50 balls and got off to a good shooting start, the latter which St. Bernard coach Mitch Runco said was a factor in the outcome of the game.
“It was tough to overcome their 3-point shooting early,” Runco said. “It was also tough to play from behind the whole game.”
There is always lingering questions as to when Lippi will step down as the coach at a program that also won D1 state titles in 1991 and 1992 under the late Frank LaPorte when future NBA Hall of Famer Jason Kidd was running the show, but he is as energetic and engaged as a coach as ever. Lippi has no plans to step down and the administration gladly wants him to continue coaching. He has a knack for allowing his players to have fun while maintaining a winning culture and it was evident in his reaction to win No. 800.
“I’ve never made a basket in 37 years; I never defended anyone in 37 years,” Lippi said. “I’m just a part of it.”
Lippi became the ninth coach in state history to reach 800 career wins. The list includes all-time leader Gary McKnight (Mater Dei), Mike LeDuc (now at Damien), Tom Orlich (Clovis West), Mike Phelps (Bishop O’Dowd), Lou Cvinajovich (Oxnard Santa Clara), Ed Azzam (Westchester), Willie West (Crenshaw) and Abe Abrami (Emery).
None of those eight and no one who have ever won a 700th or 600th milestone game, however, did it in a state final.