Saturday’s CIF state boys basketball finals at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento ends with Sierra Canyon taking its first Open Division crown with a win over hometown Sheldon. We also have writeups and photos of the two other CIF state boys finals played on Saturday won by Pleasant Valley of Chico (D3) and Santa Clarita Christian (D5).
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(Note: D5 boys writeup by editor Mark Tennis)
The boys basketball team at Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth had a long post-season journey to get to the CIF Open Division title game at the Golden 1 Center. It was a journey they completed with a pot of gold at the finish after a 75-62 victory on Saturday over Sheldon of Sacramento.
The Trailblazers had to hit the road for a CIF Southern Section Open Division playoff first round game against a talented Rancho Christian of Temecula team despite being the No. 4 ranked team in the state and rated in the FAB 50 national rankings for the entire season.
No problem there. Sierra Canyon won the game.
The Trailblazers then defeated state No. 1 Bishop Montgomery of Torrance in a double-overtime section semifinal game and had to emotionally recover and prepare for the SoCal Open playoffs following a devastating section title game loss to Mater Dei of Santa Ana.
No problem there.
Sierra Canyon then defeated Bishop Montgomery in a second overtime game in the SoCal Open semifinals before downing state No. 3 Etiwanda in a close SoCal Open final game after elevating to top-ranked status in the state. In the CIF Open final Saturday night versus No. 4 Sheldon of Sacramento before approximately 5,000 pro-NorCal fans, the Trailblazers trailed by six points with 3:45 remaining in the third period.
Once again, it turned out to be no problem, as Sierra Canyon kept its poise and utilized a big offensive second half from junior guard Scottie Pippen Jr. and sound team defense to pull away from the Huskies.
Sierra Canyon, the state’s top-ranked team with a final record of 27-4, closed out the game on a 28-10 run from that 3:45 mark when it was behind. The boys outscored Sheldon, which rebounded from losing to Modesto Christian in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 final and finished with a 29-6 won-loss record, 19-6 in the final period and actually won going away on a 8-0 run to close the game.
“I don’t know how we got that No. 5 seed (in the section playoffs), but we just found a way to win games from then on,” said Sierra Canyon first year head coach Andre Chevalier. “All of the games were just so tough and after every win we came together a bit more. Then we lost to Mater Dei and we came together even more. All of that allowed us to do this. I don’t know if we silenced the critics, but maybe we have for a few months.”
With Sierra Canyon’s victory, the South has won the CIF Open Division title game five times in the six seasons of the popular format. The lone NorCal representative to win the CIF Open crown and the last game of the season was Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland in 2014-15 over Mater Dei of Santa Ana. The Trailblazers were also the second boys team from the CIFSS Gold Coast League to win a state crown, as Crossroads of Santa Monica won in D2 on Friday afternoon. In a game earlier on Saturday night, league member Windward of Los Angeles took home the open hardware on the girls side.
With the Trailblazers leading 65-60, there was a technical and disqualifying foul called on Sierra Canyon senior Duane Washington after his teammate K.J. Martin was fouled on a loose ball situation. Sophomore Terren Frank (seven points, rebounds) actually made the two free throws for Martin in the one-and-one situation, but Sheldon’s Dale Currie (team-high 20 points, 4-of-14 field goals) made the two technical fouls shots to make the score 67-62. From that point on, Sheldon did not score again, as Sierra Canyon had a couple of blocked shots and defensive stops while the Huskies seemed to tire.
“Rebounding in the middle of the fourth quarter and we gave up some easy layups,” remarked Sheldon head coach Joey Rollings on the difference in the game.
Martin, the son of former NBA No. 1 draft choice Kenyon Martin, led Sierra Canyon on the boards with 13 rebounds and was one of three double-digit scorers for the Trailblazers with 11 points. Sierra Canyon out-rebounded Sheldon, 44-24.
Pippen Jr. had a monster second half offensively after scoring five points in the first half, as Sierra Canyon led 38-36 at halftime. The son of NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen controlled the action with his floor generalship and made some huge jumpers, none bigger than his 3-pointer with 1:59 to go to make the score 70-62 in favor of the Trailblazers.
After a Sheldon turnover, junior wing Cassius Stanley converted a conventional 3-point play with 1:41 remaining and at that point you could sense Sierra Canyon would complete its mission and silence nay-sayers who felt this team was more a collection of talented individuals than a championship team.
“We tried to keep up the pressure because we knew they like to slow it down,” said Pippen Jr., who finished with 21 points, including 2-of-5 on 3-pointers, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. “The guys grinded it out and found a way. I was just following their lead.”
“In the last two games in the second half, he’s been running the show,” Chevalier said of Pippen. “In the last year, he’s just grown up so much. He’s just been a wonderful player for us.”
Stanley led the way offensively for Sierra Canyon in the first half, scoring 16 points. He finished with a team-high 23 points while making 8-of-10 shots from the field. Washington scored 14 points before being disqualified on the technical foul. That could have been a turning point in the game, but unfortunately Sheldon did not score again and Sierra Canyon had multiple contributors to its second CIF state crown. The program won in D5 in 2015 when the core of last year’s team that did not win a section or state crown were sophomores.
Besides Currie, Sheldon had two other double-digit scorers. Senior Dom Johnson came off the bench to score 11 points, while junior Kaito Williams made 2-of-4 on 3-pointers and finished with 10 points. Sierra Canyon shot 46 percent (26-of-56) from the field, while the Huskies shot 39 percent (20-of-52).
With Sheldon losing, it looks like some SoCal Open regional teams, such as L.A. City Section champion Westchester (win over D1 champ Chino Hills) and Mater Dei of Santa Ana (CIFSS Open champions) will have to come up in the final state rankings next week while the NorCal Open semifinalists may have to drop a few spots. Had Sheldon won, it would have finished No. 1 in the state and that would have benefited No. 6 Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland (lost to Sheldon by one point in the NorCal regional final) and No. 7 Modesto Christian (beat Sheldon in section final).
Sheldon fell to 0-2 in CIF state title games. The Huskies lost, 66-48, in the CIF state D1 final to Mater Dei of Santa in the final season before the CIF introduced the open division (2011-12).
Rollings’ club put forth a game effort and just when it seemed like it could gain momentum, Sierra Canyon stepped up just as it had some many times before in its postseason run.
Pleasant Valley (Chico) 70, Notre Dame (Riverside) 65
In an interesting matchup of two section champions making their first CIF state championship appearances after battling through the regionals with what most would consider unfavorable seeds, the one that simply shot better and stayed more disciplined was able to leave Golden 1 Center with another victory and the title of CIF state champions.
The team that was able to do that was the Northern Section D3 champions, as Pleasant Valley captured just the section’s second overall state title in a battle of two teams that came in with over 30 wins. The first CIF state title for the Northern Section came in 1990 when Colusa won in D5.
Pleasant Valley (32-2), the No. 2 in the NorCal regional despite being a bubble state Top 20 club for many weeks, led 32-28 at halftime and took control of the game in the third quarter. The Vikings missed their first four shots of the third period, but then made its next 10 in the pivotal part of the game. The sharpshooting streak ended only on an off-balance 3-point heave as the buzzer sounded, but the damage was already done. Head coach Tim Keating’s club led 54-45 entering the final period and was able to hold off the CIF Southern Section Division 3A champs with good team passing. This was especially true down the stretch after Notre Dame (33-4), the No. 8 seed in the SoCal regional, began to double Vikings standout Kevin Kremer. The Titans wanted someone else to beat them.
Kremer, a 6-foot-4 senior with a terrific first step and basketball instincts, led the way for Pleasant Valley with 28 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Jake Rick, a skilled 6-foot-6 junior who made some key baskets at key moments, added 14 points while the Vikings’ third double-digit scorer was senior guard Peyton Schneringer with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Pleasant Valley shot 51 percent from the field (26-of-51), while Notre Dame shot 36 percent (25-of-70) from the field. Pleasant Valley out-rebounded Notre Dame, 41-33, and had more assists (16-9).
Junior forward Anthony Holland led Notre Dame with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Notre Dame’s Dondre Bausley had 16 points despite battling foul trouble from the second quarter on. Two of Notre Dame’s starters (four of which will return in 2018-19) fouled out, as point guard Masol Robbins (the lone senior) was disqualified without scoring.
Despite the foul trouble, Notre Dame battled valiantly but was hurt by Pleasant Valley making 17-of-22 free throws. The Titans tied the game four times in the second or third quarter, but never led in the contest.
Santa Clarita Christian (Canyon Country) 78, Argonaut (Jackson) 66
There’s an old-fashioned diner in Jackson called Mel and Faye’s where Argonaut High players of the past often gather for meals and memories. Santa Clarita Christian made sure that this year’s Mustangs would talk about being a NorCal champion and not one that won a state title.
The Cardinals (26-9) created their own set of memories by building a big lead in the second quarter and then answering a potential rally by Argonaut early in the fourth quarter. Head coach James Mosley’s club outscored the Mustangs 24-12 in that second quarter to lead 41-25 at the break. Led by senior guard Adison Cramer (game-high 29 points) and a three-pointer just before the third quarter horn by Jared Votaw, Argonaut cut the lead to 56-44.
In that fourth quarter, though, Santa Clarita Christian never allowed the Mustangs to get closer than nine points and with the ball. Mosley was able to empty his bench with 35 seconds left and begin to celebrate the school’s first-ever state championship in any sport.
“I just think we played great defense in the second quarter,” Mosley said. “We knew they’d make a couple of runs on us. The second quarter gave us the space we needed.”
Leading the way for the Cardinals was senior guard Jordan Starr and junior guard Justin Collins. Starr, who began his prep career at Foothills Christian of El Cajon, had 21 points and 10 assists. He tied the D5 boys state finals’ record of 10 assists set last year by Sandor Rodriguez from St. Francis of Watsonville. Collins, who missed the first four shots he took, ended 6-of-10 from the floor and was 4-of-8 on three-pointers for 21 points. Kaleb Lowry added 12 points and seven rebounds.
The only other scorers in double-figures for Argonaut (29-6) were Seth Tomczak with 12 points and Votaw with 11. Tomczak was saddled with three fouls in the first half, which caused head coach Jon Gilliam to second-guess himself for sitting him on the bench.
“He’s smart enough to have figured it out how to play with those fouls,” Gilliam said. “They’re too good of a team to get down by 20.”
Mosley and his other coaches anticipated that this year’s team at SCC might be a CIF D5 title contender. That’s why they had the group open up at the Corona Centennial Battle Zone tourney where they faced Etiwanda, Mission Bay of San Diego and Foothills Christian, which ended up being three of the eight Southern California Open Division teams.
“Playing those teams was a great stage for us,” said Mosley, who has been at the school for 17 years. “We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity these boys had given us.”