Is it too early to start thinking about being the No. 1 seed for this year’s CIF Northern California Open Division boys basketball playoffs? When a team is unbeaten, ranked nationally and No. 5 overall in the state, maybe not. Salesian of Richmond is that team and the Pride closed out the headline game of the MaxPreps MLK Classic played Monday at St. Mary’s College in Moraga with a comeback win over longtime East Bay rival Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland. Host De La Salle of Concord and St. John Bosco of Bellflower, fresh off its upset of state No. 3 Mater Dei of Santa Ana from last Friday, also posted solid victories.
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One of the messages delivered by Salesian of Richmond boys basketball coach Bill Mellis at halftime of his team’s matchup on Monday at St. Mary’s College was clearly received by 6-foot-7, 260-pound junior center Te’jon Sawyer.
“Coaches were telling us to play hard and that we didn’t want to hand over the No. 1 seed in NorCal to somebody else by losing this game,” Sawyer said of the Pride trailing Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland 30-19 at the time. “We had to match their intensity and we had to get stops.”
Sawyer, who is still less than a month of being on the team after playing for a Salesian football team that was in the CIF North Coast Section Division V championship on Dec. 15, led the Pride with 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds as they did indeed get the stops and rallied for a 61-53 victory over the Dragons in the final matchup of six games played as part of the 12th annual MaxPreps MLK Classic.
Both teams entered the game among the Cal-Hi Sports State Top 20 with unbeaten Salesian at 20-0 and at No. 5 and with O’Dowd at 11-5 and at No. 18.
While it is still early, while Salesian still has to win its CIF North Coast Section title and while upsets always happen, if there were projections about which team is in line to be the top seed for the Northern California Open Division, then the Pride would clearly be that team. And this year, unlike previous seasons, the top seed for both the NorCal and SoCal Open Divisions will be playing home games throughout the bracket, including the championship (which previously was held at neutral sites and for many years at ARCO Arena in Sacramento).
“Yeah, it is more important (to be the No. 1 seed) now that it’s a home game (for the final),” Mellis said. “That’s why it was so important to beat Sheldon (Sacramento) and to beat Modesto Christian. We don’t want to have to go to Sheldon (for a NorCal final).”
O’Dowd has been a NorCal Open Division regular in recent seasons (reaching the title game last year and suffering a loss to Sheldon) and on Monday played the Pride as tough as any of the other top NorCal teams in Salesian’s 21-0 season so far. The Dragons were leading 52-47 midway through the fourth quarter until Salesian went on a 9-0 run to take a 56-52 lead with 1:52 left on a 3-pointer by Jaden McClanahan. Following a free throw by O’Dowd’s Jarin Edwards, freshman Austin Johnson buried another 3-pointer with 55 seconds left that put Salesian more comfortably ahead 59-53.
Junior guard Shane Bell also tossed in 18 points for Salesian. O’Dowd, which actually suffered its first loss to a California team this season, was led by senior Will Chavarin with 12 points and junior Monty Bowser with nine.
“We’ve got to concentrate on how we’re playing and not just on the results,” Mellis said. “If we had lost tonight, we’d dive into the film to see why it happened. We have to do the same thing even though we won. There’s still a long way to go.”
In the two other headline games of the day:
De La Salle (Concord) 53,
San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 47
If Salesian and its perfect record was the team draw of the event, then individually it was San Joaquin Memorial junior Jalen Green. The reigning State Sophomore of the Year from 2018 had his moments with a game-high 29 points (highlighted with an alley-oop slam in the second quarter), but the Panthers just don’t have the team around him like they did last year and fell to the host Spartans.
De La Salle’s Andrew Flannigan topped his team with 19 points and also hauled in 12 rebounds. Teammate Tim Kostolansky just missed a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds. Highly regarded freshman Jeremiah Dargan guarded Green for long stretches and had seven points, six rebounds and three assists.
“We’ve got a big stretch of games coming up and it’s been going great,” Dargan said of his first varsity season so far. “The seniors have been helping the underclassmen a lot.”
The closest the Panthers (13-10) came to a comeback was with 2:09 left when Green missed a 3-pointer that if made would have made the score 47-45. Kostolansky then scored a field goal and that was it.
De La Salle improved to 17-2 entering a Tuesday night matchup with league rival Monte Vista of Danville (13-4).
St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 68,
Modesto Christian 65
It was a good news-bad news day for the Braves as they culminated their trip to the Bay Area by holding off the Crusaders in a matchup of teams that definitely had the look of being elite, State Top 20 type squads.
The good news for Bosco (20-5) was showing no let-down after its monstrous upset from the previous Friday against league rival and state No. 3 Mater Dei of Santa Ana. The Braves also notched a quality win over an opponent that was No. 20 in the most recent State Top 20. They pushed their record to 20-5.
The bad news is that guard Chris James, who scored 31 points in the win against Mater Dei, went out of Monday’s game in the second quarter with an ankle injury. He did not return. The Braves already have lost standout University of Pacific-bound Jonathan Salazar to a season-ending knee injury.
Josh Adoh had a strong outing for the winners with 21 points. With 9.4 seconds left, he missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation that gave Modesto Christian a chance to tie on a last-second 3-pointer. It was Adoh, however, who came up with game-clinching steal.
Modesto Christian, which earlier this season lost in overtime to Salesian, still won’t drop far in this week’s rankings since Bosco will be coming way up. Dathan Satchell, the same player who had 26 points one week ago when the Crusaders beat St. Mary’s of Stockton to extend their state record league win streak to 189 games, had another impressive performance with a team-high 18 points.
In other games played during the event held inside McKeon Pavilion:
James Logan of Union City impressed in a 75-69 loss to Pleasant Grove of Utah; Moreau Catholic of Hayward edged state No. 17 Notre Dame of Riverside on a buzzer-beater; and St. Patrick-St. Vincent of Vallejo defeated Campolindo of Moraga 53-51.
Logan had Pleasant Grove tied in the fourth quarter at 59-59 before succumbing to a team with 7-foot-4 center Matt Van Komen (21 points) that is unbeaten in Utah with one of its two losses coming to California No. 1 Sierra Canyon. The Colts (13-5) won earlier last week over Moreau Catholic in a Mission Valley Athletic League game and that win gained importance with the Mariners (13-6) upsetting Notre Dame (14-7) on a 3-point buzzer-beater by Amil Fields. Dishon Jackson led the win for St. Patrick-St. Vincent with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Brahjon Thompson had a 29-point outburst for Logan.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He also is author of “High School Football In California,” which was No. 1 on Amazon.com’s list of bestsellers in the teen/young adult football category for several weeks after it was released. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports