It’s no secret the main goal of this year’s team at St. Mary’s of Stockton is to win the program’s second CIF Open Division state title. The Rams seemed to take a step in the right direction toward that goal with a 78-61 victory over Centennial of Las Vegas on Saturday in one of the featured games at their own MLK St. Mary’s Showcase.
Centennial pinned a 28-point loss against the slate of Fresno Clovis West the last time it hit the floor at the MLK St. Mary’s Showcase and Clovis West went on to win the CIF Open Division state title. The Bulldogs also beat St. Mary’s last year in the same event and in the first half of Saturday’s game showed how much they seem to like playing at Morelli Gym.
With one of the team’s leading scorers, Neenah Young, on the bench with fouls, the Rams were down by as many as eight points in the second quarter and trailed 37-33 at the break. The Bulldogs scored too often on layups, especially from senior Eboni Walker.
In the second half, however, Young got going, other players hit for three-pointers and the Rams pulled away. They broke a 41-41 tie in the third quarter on three-pointers by Jada Moss and Young. They then took a 53-44 lead on three-pointers by Young.
In the fourth quarter, Centennial couldn’t get stops to cut into that lead. A conventional three-point play by Ariel Johnson made the score 64-53 and then later in the period back-to-back field goals by Aquira DeCosta put it away at 70-56.
“We just talked at halftime about how committed we were going to be to what we do on both sides of the ball,” said St. Mary’s head coach Tom Gonsalves. “It wasn’t one thing. It was everything. We had a great practice yesterday and I was hoping it would carry over. It didn’t until the second half.”
Young, who is going to Dartmouth, connected for 21 points, but Johnson (headed to Florida) led all scorers with 25 points. Moss added 12 while De Costa (Baylor) came back from a scoreless first half to finish with eight points, 17 rebounds and three blocks.
Walker was Centennial’s top scorer with 16 points. Justice Ethridge (11 points) and Mel Isbell (10 points) were two other players off of last year’s team who were hard-charging all day long.
St. Mary’s opened the season No. 1 in the state, but fell to No. 2 after a loss to current state and national No. 1 Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) in the title game of the top division at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. The Rams (16-2) then lost again to Long Island Lutheran (NY) at the Title IX Classic in Washington DC. Centennial, which is still No. 1 in Nevada, lost twice at the Nike TOC and was looking for an even bigger national win.
“That was a very good team we just beat,” Gonsalves said. “There’s something about playing a team that expects to win every time it plays and they do. I thought our intensity was excellent, we had better ball movement and Aquira dominated the boards in the second half.”