Make it 10 CIF state titles for legendary program Brea Olinda after Ladycats claim Division I state title with win against St. Francis of Sacramento. The other two winners on the day at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento are Sacred Heart Cathedral (D3) and Eastside College Prep (D5). Additional writeup (D3) by Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis.
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After bolting out to an 8-0 lead and never looking back, the Brea Olinda High girls basketball team went on to post a 64-51 CIF Division I state championship victory over a no-quit St. Francis (Sacramento) at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
In claiming another state title, the Ladycats also added to their record total of girls state championships by giving the Orange County girls a 10th state title in 13 appearances. They were No. 13 in the Cal-Hi Sports State Top 20 entering the night.
Arizona State-bound Reili Richardson, the ESPN No. 13 rated senior guard in the nation and No. 46 player overall, led Brea Olinda with 26 points, nine rebounds, five assists and five steals. Ladycats sophomore forward Tyiona Watkins added 22 points, five rebounds and two steals, and sophomore 6-foot-1 forward Krislyn Marsh had a double-double 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Brea Olinda (29-4) led 14-8 after one quarter, 31-12 at the half, 48-26 after three quarters, and stretched the lead to 24 points on two occasions, including 52-28 before St. Francis went on a 23-12 run from that point in the fourth quarter to get the final score respectable.
“We set the tempo in the first half and shut them down with our defense,” said Brea Olinda head coach Jeff Sink, who won his fifth state title in seven appearances.
St. Francis (29-6) was playing in front of a large group of student and fans, and the strong local support of the Sacramento schools’ faithful kept them going all out until the final buzzer.
The Troubadours, ranked No. 17 in this week’s State Top 20, got a team-high 16 points and four assists from Australian-born and Colorado State-bound Tia Hay, but in the first half the Brea Olinda defense only allowed her five points. Sophomore guard Marlee Nichols added 10 points and six rebounds, and senior 6-foot-2 post Lauren Craig had a near double-double nine points and a game high 13 rebounds with four blocked shots.
“We set a realistic goal at the beginning of the playoffs of getting here, and we fell one game short, but no one can take away the fact these girls are the Northern California champions,” St. Francis head coach Vic Pitton remarked.
The local girls gave it their all but the story of this game was about the young Ladycats and their lone senior Richardson.
“It’s a dream come true to win a state championship,” Richardson said. “This is what I wanted all year after we lost last season.”
Brea Olinda lost 55-40 last year to Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) in the CIF Division III title game.
The season started strong for Brea Olinda with five wins to open the campaign, including a title in their Ladycat Classic and a 63-46 road win at a Fairmont Prep of Anaheim team that would later go on to post a victory over Southern Regional Open Division champion Chaminade of West Hills. However, the girls ran into trouble at the Nike TOC with losses to Tennessee No. 4 ranked Morristown-Hamblen West of Morristown and a close 53-51 setback to La Jolla Country Day.
The Ladycats closed out the TOC with a 72-44 victory over a Cajon (San Bernardino) team playing for a CIF Division II title on Saturday, and then won the Diamond Division of the West Coast Jamboree with a 65-62 victory over Carondelet of Concord.
“We went to the Nike TOC and played terribly but the West Coast Jamboree lit our season up. From there, we played very well,” Sink remarked.
With the Cajon win and the three wins at the Jamboree, Brea went on to win 17 straight games before back-to-back losses to Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) and Alemany of Mission Hills in the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs. During the streak, the Ladycats had wins over state-ranked Troy (Fullerton), Windward (Los Angeles) and Oaks Christian of Westlake Village.
Then, after being sent to back to Division I by the Southern Section for the Southern Regionals, Brea Olinda avenged the loss to Alemany, beat Troy again and finally won the SoCal D1 Regional with a 64-55 victory over state-ranked Vista Murrieta of Murrieta.
The Brea Olinda victory was also career win No. 554 for Sink since he came from Fairbanks Lathrop (Alaska) where he compiled a 238-72 record with two state championships in 13 seasons. Sink also took a break from girls coaching from 2011-2103 when he compiled a 38-29 record coaching the Brea Olinda boys. If Sink’s girls’ coaching records are combined, he would have more wins (792) than California all-time leader Joe Vaughn. He had 761 career coaching victories from 1976-2007 at Ventura Buena.
With all the state titles and coaching victories, this year’s young group was special for the wily veteran.
“This is the youngest and nicest group of girls I’ve ever worked with. They have and intensity level and play with the kind of sheer joy I love to see,” Sink said.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (SF) 50,
Lakeside (Lake Elsinore) 47
One year after the Irish lost in the CIF NorCal Open Division semifinals they returned to D3 and end up with their fourth state title.
It wasn’t easy as Lakeside led 43-40 with a little more than five minutes left and was consistently bothering the Irish (21-9) with the length of 6-foot-1 sophomore Mya Victor and the size of 6-foot-4 junior Emma Merriweather.
But the San Francisco school had an obvious answer: Six-foot junior Ilmar’I Thomas. An all-state sophomore pick from last season, Thomas tied the D3 title game record with 30 points and also pulled down 15 rebounds. The other two with 30 are Jacki Gemelos of Stockton St. Mary’s (2005) and Amber Melgoza of Santa Barbara (2014).
“It feels great to win it because the last two years we haven’t been able to get here,” Thomas said. “This is such a young team so it feels really great.”
Thomas scored on a conventional three-point play that tied the score at 43-43 before the Irish took their first lead since halftime on a layup by Edina Del Rosario with 4:19 left.
Lakeside (29-6) could only score one basket and two free throws for the rest of the game.
Thomas’ biggest basket came with 11 seconds left on a free throw length jumper that gave Sacred Heart a 48-45 lead. The Lancers didn’t get a chance to shoot a potential game-tying 3-pointer but Triann Thompson did connect on a pair of free throws with 6.6 seconds left to make it a one-point game.
Lakeside had to foul at that point and Thomas was the one fouled. With 3.9 seconds left, she made both shots. A loose ball then prevented the Lancers to even get off a buzzer-beating heave.
“They’re tough and it was a fight to the end,” said Sacred Heart Cathedral head coach Lyryan Russell. “I wanted to keep reminding them that we just needed some stops. In the fourth quarter, we got the stops and the scores.”
Russell earned his first CIF state title as a coach, but for the school it was its fifth. The previous four were won by Brian Harrigan as the head coach. One of Harrigan’s former star players, Jazmine Jackson, is a current SHC assistant coach. Coach Russell’s sister, Toni, was another star player on a previous title team.
“She won’t have that over me anymore,” Russell said as he was leaving the post-game press conference.
Lakeside head coach Anthony Williams thought the difference was his team getting too rushed in key possessions down the stretch.
“It just came down to missed opportunities,” Williams said. “We were finishing and not turning it over. Then we got in too much of a hurry and turned it over.”
Merriweather led the Lancers with 13 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. Victor had nine points, nine rebounds and six blocks while Thompson had 12 and Marissa Williams had 11.
“From the beginning of the season we believed in this group,” Williams said. “We missed out in the (CIF Southern Section) semifinals and we were hoping for another chance. We made the most of it.”
Division V Girls
Eastside College Prep (E. Palo Alto) 57,
Village Christian (Sun Valley) 50
In what was a David versus Goliath type matchup, it was undersized Northern Regional champion Eastside College Prep (East Palo Alto) overcoming two 13-point second quarter deficits to win its first ever state title.
The win got Eastside Prep to 1-1 in state title games after it lost 40-36 in the D5 state final last season to La Jolla Country Day.
“I didn’t sleep last night thinking about this game,” nine-year Eastside Prep head coach Donovan Blythe remarked. “We had some unfinished business to take care of and we came back this year and took care of business.”
The underclass duo of sophomore Alayah Bell and freshman Zion Gabriel led Eastside Prep (20-11) with 16 points apiece, while Bell snagged seven rebounds along with sophomore Kayla Tahaafe, who also had 15 points.
In the early morning 10 a.m. game, Village Christian used its superior size to mount an 11-0 run that gave the Crusaders a 15-8 lead after one quarter. They stretched it to 25-12 after another 10-2 run, and although the Southern Regional champions still led 29-23 at the half the momentum was already beginning to swing to an Eastside Prep team without a starter over 5-foot-7.
The biggest momentum changer of the game came with 2:37 left in the third quarter when Village Christian 6-foot-4 junior post Mercy Odima picked up her third foul with the Crusaders clinging to a 35-32 lead. With the biggest girl on the court on the bench, Eastside Prep closed to within 42-41 entering the final period.
Odima returned but less than two minutes into the fourth quarter she was back on the bench with her fourth foul, and by the time she returned Eastside Prep had a 49-44 lead it held until the final buzzer.
“When Merci picked up those fouls it changed the momentum of the game,” said Village Christian head coach Jon Sampang. “The Eastside defense threw us a curveball.”
Village Christian (26-9) got 15 points and 19 rebounds from Odima, 15 points from sophomore Leslie Aguirre, and 12 points and seven rebounds from 5-foot-11 sophomore forward Michaela Cacho-Negrete.
The Panthers may have had a big size disadvantage but for everything the girls from the Peninsula lacked in height they made up for in tenacity, plus they had the fresher legs in a fourth quarter that saw them outscore the Crusaders 16-8.
“Our girls are in great shape and I felt we could wear them down,” Blythe said. “Also, in the second half we changed it up on defense and doubled down on the big girl and fronted her.”
The result was while Odima had 11 rebounds she only scored eight points in the final two quarters.
“I tried not to think about my size difference and play her (Odima) like any other post,” said the Tahaafe, who was charged with guarding the Village Christian big girl.
Although the final margin was seven points, the game was still in doubt with Eastside Prep only leading 49-48 and just over three minutes left to play, however from there the Panthers closed out the game on an 8-2 run and the D4 state title was theirs.
“I told the girls this is a game of runs,” Blythe said. “We’ll make runs and they’ll make runs, but we made the final run.”
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