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Clovis West (Fresno) 44,
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 40
Although it was certainly not high scoring, Saturday night’s CIF Open Division state final between the state No. 2 Golden Eagles and the state No. 1 Monarchs was a game of scoring runs and big momentum shifts.
When Mitty scored the first points of the fourth quarter on a basket by super sophomore Haley Jones, the Monarchs were up 37-30. Unfortunately for them, the next run by Clovis West began and Mitty in fact didn’t get another field goal for the last 5:41 of the game.
Sarah Bates, a UC Santa Barbara recruit, caught a long pass over Mitty’s press and converted a layup to get things going. She later made a three-pointer with 2:42 left in the game to give Clovis West a 39-37 lead.
Both teams continued to struggle to score. With the lead 42-40 and less than a minute left, Mitty worked for a possible game-tying or game-winning shot, but with 18.9 seconds left Maddie Holland couldn’t convert. Clovis West secured the rebound, Mitty ended up fouling senior point guard Danae Marquez and with 5.4 seconds left Marquez sank a pair of free throws to secure the win.
With the title, Clovis West became the first school from the CIF Central Section to win the Division I or Open Division state title and will be the first Central Section team on Monday to be chosen State Team of the Year. That list goes back to 1972.
“Typically, in the Open Division there are 16 teams and 12 to 14 of them happen to be private schools,” said Clovis West head coach Craig Campbell, who had never before won a CIF state title but has won a state title for Reno High in Nevada. “When we first went into the Open Division, we got blitzed by Etiwanda. We got blitzed again a few years ago by Chaminade. I didn’t think we could play at that level, but last year we turned the corner a little bit. This year, we knew what we could do.
“We never set out to be the greatest. We just wanted to be the best version of us.”
The two teams played once before, but it was very early in the season at the Iolani tourney in Hawaii and in that tourney’s title game Mitty won 72-67 in overtime.
“Absolutely, it’s completely different,” Campbell said. “In December, you’re playing on the third day of a trip to Hawaii with high school girls. There’s no prep time. To have a week to prepare, we just knew both teams would be well-prepared.”
Mitty head coach Sue Phillips, who would have tied a state record by winning a seventh state title as a coach for her school, agreed.
“It was so long ago and the teams have evolved,” she said. “You really do have to just credit them. They were communicating on every play and contesting every shot.”
Bates used her big fourth quarter to lead the Golden Eagles with 12 points. Marquez and future San Jose State teammate Megan Anderson both finished with nine points.
“I had an awful first half and my friends told me I had to get over it and get into it,” Bates said. “I just knew someone would come through in the clutch.”
Jones was the only player in the game with a double-double as she ended with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Holland also had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Clovis West also benefitted from a large contingent of fans who traveled from Fresno, a much larger group than those that came from closer San Jose to root for Mitty.
“It has always been feeling like a home game,” Bates said. “It was loud in Long Beach last week and loud here tonight. Even though we’re from three hours away, it was kind of cool that the whole arena was cheering for us.”
For Mitty’s seniors, the loss capped a career that saw them lose in a Division II state final as freshman, win a Division II state final as sophomores and then lose in the Open Division final as seniors.
“If you told me before the game we’d hold them to 44 points, I’d have said, ‘Wow,’ and would have thought we won,” Phillips said. “I thought we had good looks, but sometimes the cards are just not in your favor.”
Vanden (Fairfield) 64,
Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 61
This was a tale of two different quarters as the Vikings came back from being blitzed 25-9 in the third quarter to blitz the Monarchs 26-6 in the fourth.
At the height of Mater Dei’s lead into the fourth quarter, the Monarchs were up by 17 with 6:42 left. And even after Sarah Rahon connected on a bank shot to give Mater Dei a 61-53 lead with less than three minutes left, it still looked like an uphill climb for Vanden.
That’s when Vikings’ senior Julia Blackshell-Fair took over. She scored on a putback with 2:01 left to make it 61-56 and then fed teammate Dierdre Huff for an open 3-pointer that she hit that made it 61-59 with 1:23 remaining.
Mater Dei still had the lead at 61-60 and had the ball with 20.9 seconds on the clock when Blackshell-Fair made a play that Vanden NFL player Deone Buchanan would have been proud of. She anticipated a pass, stole it and then drove the lane for a go-ahead basket with 11.2 seconds left. She was fouled on the play as well, but didn’t make the free throw.
With a 63-61 deficit, Jayda Adams, the Monarchs’ Duke-bound guard, then let fly with a 3-pointer as time was expiring that could have won the game. It missed and Vanden added one free throw for the final margin.
“In the fourth quarter, I wasn’t running out of hope,” said Blackshell-Fair, an ESPNW Top 100-ranked player who has signed with Houston. “I was just watching the numbers change. Thinking, ‘We can get this.’ I told my shooters just to keep shooting.
“Actually on that last play I was scared. I either missed, I either fouled and I just didn’t know. Then I heard the crowd and I knew.”
Mater Dei head coach Kevin Kiernan was denied in an attempt to win his seventh CIF state title. He has won previously three times with the Monarchs and three times at Troy of Fullerton. The record of seven was set two years ago by Tom Gonsalves of Stockton St. Mary’s.
“We fell into the trap of taking too much time off the clock and went away from getting inside like we were in the third quarter,” Kiernan said. “We played not to lose.”
The Monarchs have been susceptible to giving up leads all season and they’ve had more than their fair share of tough losses, including a layup at the buzzer by Harvard-Westlake and a double-overtime loss to Windward in the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs that enabled them to drop to Division II in the first place.
“Those two playoff games were the best we played all season,” said Kiernan, whose team ended at 24-9 and was threatening for a final State Top 20 ranking with a win. “We had been playing well after that. If we had a game tomorrow, I think we’d play well.”
Vanden’s state title, meanwhile, marks the culmination of a long building process since head coach Alison Johnson took over 13 seasons ago. Working alongside husband Jake, Johnson has never had less than 23 wins any season, including 31 for this season (only five losses). Getting to the state finals, however, has been a challenge, partly because for many years the Vikings ran into powerhouse programs like St. Mary’s of Stockton and Sacramento in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs, partly because they had to go the Open Division one year and partly because they just never strung together the necessary outings needed to win NorCal and then a state crown.
“For every milestone we’ve had in the past like first section game, first NorCal game and others, we’ve always lost, but this time we won the first time at state,” Johnson said. “It’s a new feeling and a long time coming.”
Blackshell-Fair capped a four-year career (the coaches said she has more than 1,200 rebounds) with 20 points, 21 rebounds, eight assists and five steals.
“Julia was very hard to contain,” Kiernan said. “We couldn’t stop her and not only was she getting her own stuff but creating a lot of opportunities for teammates.”
Blackshell-Fair also was employed to slow down Mater Dei’s Cyndi Lewis. The San Jose State-bound senior scored on a variety of inside moves, mostly in the third quarter, and finished with a game-high 23 points to go with 12 rebounds.
Other stat stars for the game were Vanden’s Huff with 14 points and Myli Martinez with 12 points and Mater Dei’s Adams with 19 points and four steals and Rahon with 10 points.
“She quickly figured out her footwork,” Johnson said of that defense on Lewis. “Julia’s defense got them disjointed. I kept looking up at the score (in the fourth quarter). We got it to 10, then 9. And then came the frenzy.”
West Campus (Sacramento) 63,
Los Osos (Rancho Cucamonga) 55
Playing Division I opponents in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section and going on a successful trip to Florida in December helped propel the Warriors to their first state title. Having the best player on the floor in junior guard Kiara Jefferson also helped.
West Campus was leading for most of the game, but in the third quarter the red-hot shooting of freshman guard Breanna Ha (she made 4-of-5 on 3-pointers in the quarter) lifted the Grizzlies into a 49-49 tie heading to the final period.
That’s when Jefferson, who has major college D1 offers, hit a three and had a couple of steals to push the Warriors (30-4) back in front 59-50 with less than three minutes left.
Los Osos (27-4) still wouldn’t go away and after a 3-pointer by sophomore Peyton Van Soest had the deficit down to 59-55 with 1:48 left. The Grizzlies couldn’t get any closer, however, and West Campus finally started making free throws. Two by freshman Gaby Rones (who nailed a 3-pointer at the first quarter horn) at 1:10 remaining made it 61-55 and then two more by Nia Johnson clinched the win.
“Sometimes, it would not be good to have your team in the paper that much so opponents don’t know about you,” said West Campus head coach John Langston, who was the head coach at Sacramento High when that school lost in the 2006 Division III state final to Bishop Amat of La Puente. “But now we can’t hide anymore. Now we want people to know who we are. This team is a hidden jewel.”
The Warriors began to get a glimpse of what was possible on a trip to Naples, Fla., in December where they won a tournament title and in the final game defeated a team from Gilmour Academy in Ohio that won a state title in that state. They also matched up in games against CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I schools St. Mary’s of Stockton, McClatchy of Sacramento and Lincoln of Stockton.
“Going to Florida brought us together,” Langston said. “Play in, play out and play in, play out. (Playing the D1 schools) was a measurement. We wanted to know who we are.
“People talk about divisions, but I’ve never cared about divisions. It’s all about heart.”
Los Osos also is trying to build something special, and is trying to emerge from the shadow of sister school Etiwanda, which this year has been among the State Top 20 all season.
“It’s been a dream season,” said head coach Dawnesha Buckner. “Every player scored a point and contributed. We’ve been flying high and now we’ve landed. We just have to get back to work.”
Jefferson racked up 24 points with eight rebounds and two steals to lead West Campus. Rones had 16 while Namiko Adams had seven points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Ha also ended with 24 for Los Osos. She didn’t make a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, however. The team’s other double-figure scorers were Van Soest with 12 and Dynnah BUckner with 11.
West Campus also became just the third SJS team to win the D4 state title. The first two were teams at Stockton St. Mary’s in 2000 and 2003.
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