California’s Knights of the roundball table and Kings of the court are from Bishop Montgomery of Torrance, which won in the first-ever CIF Open Division state final played at the Golden 1 Center over Woodcreek of Roseville. Look for Bishop Montgomery’s final coronation as State Team of the Year coming on Monday. In the D2 title game, Esperanza of Anaheim won its first state crown while in D4 St. Patrick-St. Vincent made Vallejo city history.
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Open Division: Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 74,
Woodcreek (Roseville) 67
The final game of the 2017 CIF state basketball championships was the perfect script for an upset. The event was moved to the brand new Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento, a local team from Roseville with a star player earned its way to face the best open division team from Southern California and a partisan crowd came out to support the NorCal underdog.
The script was there, but the storyline played out a different way, as Woodcreek got off to a bad start against the state’s No. 1 ranked team in Bishop Montgomery of Torrance. The crowd grew restless as Woodcreek missed its first 12 shots from the field and made only 1-of-14 shots in the first quarter. The score was 17-4 after one period and the Knights rolled to a 74-67 victory to secure their first ever CIF Open Division state title. The Knights, who also won the coveted CIF Southern Section Open Division title, are the fourth SoCal team to win the open division state title in its five years in existence. NorCal won in 2015 when Ivan Rabb, who recently declared for the NBA Draft out of Cal, led Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland to the championship.
“A lot people overlooked us at the start of the season, but we knew we were good,” said Bishop Montgomery coach Doug Mitchell, who upped is record in CIF state championship games to 4-1. “We were the No. 1 team in the state. It was a group that never lost faith. They just found a way to win.”
Not only did Woodcreek (32-3) get off to a slow start, the star player did, too. Junior center Jordan Brown didn’t make his first field goal until the 7:01 mark in the second quarter. At that point, Bishop Montgomery (31-2) held a 19-6 lead. The score was 29-11 when Mr. Basketball candidate Ethan Thompson of Montgomery muscled his way to the basket. It took the Timberwolves a quarter and a half to settle down, but they were able to gain some momentum late in the quarter and went into halftime trailing 33-19.
Montgomery was led by Thompson in this game and all season long, but what made the Knights the Cal-Hi Sports preseason No. 1 team and end up as the state’s best was its balance, focus and resolve. All five starters stepped up at key moments of the season and in recent games, San Diego St.-bound Jordan Schakel made big shots after injuries slowed him in November and December. This game was no different, as Schakel’s 3-pointer gave the Knights a 40-21 lead. His production was a big factor in the game, as he made 4-of-7 on 3-pointers and finished with 20 points. As a team, Bishop Montgomery made 9-of-18 on 3-pointers.
State No. 4 Woodcreek had only one bad outing all season, which ended up being against a Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood team that came back to win a CIF Southern Section title and the stinker was less than 24 hours after a tough loss to state No. 3 Chino Hills. The NorCal champions showed major resolve in battling back after its slow start. The Timberwolves were too good just to go away quietly, as Brown started racking up the fouls on the smaller Montgomery defenders and cutting into the deficit. Two made free throws by Brown with 7:42 remaining cut the deficit to single digits (49-41) and the Timberwolves even got to as close as 60-54 with possession, but just couldn’t get over the hump. The Knights had too many weapons, were poised and made their free throws and the correct decisions down the stretch.
“That definitely put us in a hole for sure,” Woodcreek coach Paul Hayes said about the first quarter. “They’re a hell of a team, but we were getting some good looks that we just couldn’t knock down.
“It was a strong performance (by Jordan). They wear down and Jordan wears them down. Gosh, we were right there in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get that one stop or that one basket to really come back.”
Bishop Montgomery got a big spark down the stretch from sophomore guard Gianni Hunt, as his 3-pointer made the score 57-51 and came back moments later to make a 13-footer in the key to make it 62-54 with 2:30 remaining. He finished with 10 points, while junior guard Davy Singleton added 14. Thompson put on a display of skilled offensive moves on the break, in the half court and down in the post to finish with a team-high 26 points.
“I just wanted to get us going offensively,” said Thompson, who teamed with his older brother Stevie Jr. to lead Bishop Montgomery to a D4 CIF state title his freshman season. “I felt like a lot of guys can do that for us. Gianni Hunt was huge.”
Their father Stevie Sr., who won back-to-back D1 state titles at L.A. Crenshaw in 1985 and 1986, was in the stands cheering for his son as was his older brother.
As for Brown, he set an Open Division scoring record with 35 points and pulled down 17 rebounds. He also gave his team a chance by converting 17-of-21 free throws. Woodcreek’s other double-digit scorer was senior Tyrell Roberts with 15 points. He also had three assists and two steals. Despite Brown’s monster effort, Montgomery still out-rebounded the Timberwolves, 37-32.
Woodcreek gave a valiant effort, but it was a fantastic season for a team that lost its season opener in NorCal to Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland. It did not lose to a SoCal team all year long, beating state No. 2 Mater Dei twice, No. 3 Chino Hills and a Sierra Canyon team that had arguably the best regular season resume of any team in the country. We’ll have to decide how far Woodcreek drops in the final rankings after the loss. It will be a harder decision and tougher evaluation after the Timberwolves battled back so valianty against a team that will no longer be measured by any of this year’s clubs around the state, but against some of the best ever produced from the South Bay region of the Los Angeles basin.
Division II: Esperanza (Anaheim) 72,
Moreau Catholic (Hayward) 65
It an evenly matched affair between teams with contrasting styles, it turned into a classic games of runs and the final one went to Esperanza. Not surprisingly, the Aztecs won the game and also captured their first CIF state championship in the process. It was also a game pitting all-state guards with different styles: Esperanza’s 6-foot-8 Kezie Okpala and Moreau’s 6-foot-2 Damari Milstead. They figured to play a key role in the outcome of the game, but not surprisingly, a role player was one of the keys to the Aztecs’ victory.
That player was junior Brendan Harrick, a rugged forward with a sweet shooting touch. Moreau Catholic (25-10) dug itself an early big hole, trailing by as many as 17 points in the second quarter, but its main run of the contest got the Mariners back in it by halftime. At intermission, the score was 34-26 with Esperanza in the lead but with Moreau Catholic going into the locker room with some momentum and a feeling it could win the game. That certainly wasn’t the case when the Mariners played in the state title game four years ago when Milstead was a freshman.
In that D4 title game, Moreau Catholic lost to Bishop Montgomery (which played for the CIF Open title later Saturday night) by the largest margin in state history, but this team showed resiliency all season long and displayed that again versus Esperanza (30-3). Just as it had after a 2-8 start to the season, the Mariners kept clawing and fighting and took the lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by 6-foot-6 freshman Kyree Walker. His second with 5:20 in the third period gave the Mariners a 37-36 lead.
“When everything looks like we should be done, these guys fight back,” said Moreau Catholic coach Frank Knight. “It was a tough games for us, we couldn’t pull it out, but I’m extremely proud of these young men. I want them to always know that.”
After trailing 26-9, Moreau Catholic did take the lead, but it also took a lot of gas out of the boys to get back in the game. After the Mariners took the lead, the Aztecs went on a run of their own to take a 47-42 lead going in the fourth period. Moreau Catholic had one last gut-check and went to its full court press and it created the turnovers it needed to give itself a chance.
That’s when Harrick stepped up.
With the score 58-53 in favor of Esperanza, the Mariners missed a chippie lay-up and Harrick made them pay with a corner pocket 3-pointer to give the Aztecs some cushion (61-53). With Esperanza holding on to a 63-61 lead with 1:10 remaining, Milstead came up with a steal, but on the carom, Okpala pushed it up court and, right before he was going to bobble it, found Harrick for a pretty reverse lay-in and Moreau Catholic never got that close again.
Okpala then sealed the game with two free throws with 27.8 seconds remaining. The Stanford-bound Orange County Player of the Year finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists. He made 11-of-15 free throws. Harrick finished with a team-high 25 points, including three 3-pointers. The Aztecs’ other double-digit scorer was senior Garrett Geiger with 10 points. This championship run was satisfying for coach Mark Hill, as his team was built around kids who grew up playing together in Anaheim and Yorba Linda since they were eight or nine years old, got lumped into the rugged CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs, lost two consecutive games, then bounced back to win a state title.
“I’ve been at the school 28 years as a teacher and coaching 14 and without question this is the greatest team we’ve ever had, and the greatest group,” Hill said. “All these kids grew up and played together since third or fourth grade.”
The CIFSS Open Division playoffs was tough for what basketball pundits call a “neighborhood” team, but CIFSS Open teams were also an achillies for the Mariners. The loss to Esperanza was Moreau’s second versus an open team, as it also lost to Damien of La Verne.
Walker, one of the best 2020 prospects in the country, finished with a game-high 28 points and 10 rebounds. Milstead closed out one of the most decorated careers in North Coast Section history with 22 points. He made 8-of-8 free throws, but only 6-of-21 shots from the field.
Division IV: St. Patrick-St. Vincent (Vallejo) 59,
Helix (La Mesa) 46
The boys from NorCal had more firepower in the arsenal and it was going to take a superb effort from Helix to knock off the battle-tested Bruins. Helix held St. Pat’s to 19 points in the first half, but the problem was the Scots only had 20. After missing its final 14 shots of the second quarter and being outscored 13-5 in the period, St. Pat’s came out like gangbusters in the third period and outscored Helix, 25-7, to spark its first state championship run in school history.
With the win, St. Patrick-St. Vincent (28-7) completely erased the memories of its puzzling 71-68 overtime loss to Lick-Wilmerding (San Francisco) in the NCS D4 semifinals and made history by becoming the first program from the city of Vallejo to win a CIF boys state title. The victory also gave the Bruins’ program a rare football-basketball state title double in the same school year. St. Patrick-St. Vincent won a Division 6A state title on the gridiron last fall. The last California program to accomplish that feat was Serra of Gardena in the 2009-10 school year.
“It’s been an incredible year,” said St. Pat’s head coach Derek Walker, a 1994 graduate of the school. “I couldn’t be more happy for these kids sitting next to me. I’m most proud they stayed together. It feels great, I’m still pinching myself.”
The complexion of the game turned when junior forward Miles Norris of Helix (31-6) picked up his fourth foul with 4:17 remaining in the third period and his team trailing 28-24. Somebody needed to pick up the slack to spark the Highlanders, but as that didn’t materialize the Bruins went on a 16-3 run that Helix never recovered from. At the end of the third period it was 44-27 and despite a couple of ill-advised quick shots and fouls down the stretch, St. Pat’s remained in control in the closing minutes.
“I feel like we trust each other on the court,” said senior wing Tavian Henderson, one of four Bruins in double figures and one of three who finished with 12 points. “Honestly, we were dumbfounded (by the loss to Lick-Wilmerding), but we learned from it. We learned to play to the end.”
After that NCS semifinal loss, Lick-Wilmerding lost in the NCS D4 final to NorCal Open Division team St. Joseph Notre Dame. The Bruins avenged that loss in the NorCal D4 semifinals and blew out top seed Palma of Salinas last week.
Senior guard B.J. Standley led St. Pat’s with 16 points, while the other two to score 12 were senior post Romeo Mays and Grid-Hooper Marquel Johnson, one of the five athletes on the team to earn state rings in both football and basketball.
Norris led Helix with 11 points, despite only getting eight shots from the field. Senior Jaylen Arnold added 10 points and 12 rebounds.
“We came out with no energy or urgency in the third quarter,” said Helix coach John Singer. “We didn’t play our best game, but give them credit, they did it on the biggest stage.”