Leading champions in CIF Southern Section championship games played at Cal Baptist University in Riverside and CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championship games played at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento were the two teams that played each other last year in the CIF Open Division state final. Bishop Montgomery of Torrance, the No. 8 seed in the CIFSS Open playoffs, comes up short in its upset bid as top seed and state No. 2 Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth won its first section open crown. State No. 9 Sheldon of Sacramento, meanwhile, rallies from nine points down in the fourth quarter to stun No. 18 Modesto Christian to reverse SJS D1 title game loss from 2018. Two other notable winners in the two section events were Santa Margarita for the CIFSS D1 crown and Weston Ranch of Stockton for the SJS D3 banner.
Note: Cal-Hi Sports’ editors Ronnie Flores and Mark Tennis were at games in Riverside and Sacramento. Unfortunately, there’s no time to put together capsules and recaps of every major CIF section championship game across the state. We salute all of the champions. On Sunday at approximately 4 pm, the CIF will release its brackets for next week’s NorCal and SoCal regional playoffs. We will go through all of the results at that time and will compile the next State Top 20 rankings package (with every team broken down) plus take a look at top 10 rankings in each of the five CIF divisions.
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To novice observers, it looked like the Sierra Canyon-Bishop Montgomery boys CIFSS Open Division title game was a mismatch of sorts. The Trailblazers, the defending CIF state open champions, were the bigger and more athletic team. And it looked like the warm-up observations were spot on after Sierra Canyon jumped out to early 10-1, 14-3, and 17-5 leads. Veteran observers, however, knew Bishop Montgomery of Torrance often has that look against big-time opponents. Those same observers also know the Knights can play with anyone in the state and usually don’t beat themselves.
That scenario played out once again for Bishop Montgomery, as the Knights shook off their slow start and made a game of it in a battle of the No. 1 and No. 8 seeds in the eight-team CIFSS open playoffs. Bishop Montgomery got to within a couple of baskets behind the big-time shot-making of seniors Josh Vazquez and Will Crawford, but Sierra Canyon held the Knights’ charge off to win, 64-57, before 2,000 fans at Cal Baptist University.
Sierra Canyon, which improved to 28-3 with only one in-state loss (to Rancho Christian of Temecula), won its first CIFSS open title. In last year’s final, the Trailblazers were tripped up by Mater Dei of Santa Ana, but rebounded in the regional and did not lose gain.
Leading the way to victory was the state’s top uncommitted senior prospect and the No. 3 player in the Cal-Hi Sports Hot 100, Cassius Stanley. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard scored a game-high 29 points to go along with five rebounds and two blocks. He made 10-of-16 shots from the field and 3-of-6 on 3-pointers. The biggest of his 3-pointers came at the third quarter buzzer, as Bishop Montgomery (24-6) was gaining momentum. Stanley came down the right side after both teams traded baskets and dropped in a shot from approximately 28 feet out with a hand near him to give Sierra Canyon a 48-42 lead going into the fourth period. The lead never changed, as Sierra Canyon led all 32 minutes and out-rebounded Bishop Montgomery, 35-25.
“It’s always great to win…It feels great to have one of my best games, but winning is all that matters,” Stanley said. “Now we get back in the lab and get ready to win state.”
Vazquez, a steal of a recruit for Montana and an all-state candidate, hit long range bombs of his own when Montgomery needed them the most. The Knights got to 56-52 with 2:28 remaining in the game, but could get no closer. Vazquez made 7-of-15 field goals, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers, to finish with 19 points, but only took three field goal attempts in the final period.
Nick Schrader was Montgomery’s second double-digit scorer with 14 points, while Scotty Pippen Jr. was Sierra Canyon’s second with 12 points.
Sierra Canyon will now enter the SoCal Open regional as the No. 1 seed when regional pairings are released on Sunday afternoon. L.A. City Section Open Division champion L.A. Fairfax will likely nab the No. 2 seed, as it owns a win over Bishop Montgomery. The Knights will definitely be in the eight-team SoCal open field, but it looks like for the first time the CIF will take more than four teams from the CIF Southern Section for the SoCal open. In NorCal, there is questions swirling if the CIF will gut the North in its other divisions and take eight teams for the open. There also is a chance projected top seed and state No. 1 Salesian of Richmond, the NCS D3 champion, will have a bye in the first round of the regional playoffs.
SJS D1: Sheldon Wins Thriller This Time
In the previous two CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship games, Sheldon of Sacramento fans had to watch in agony as their team lost in back-and-forth heart-breakers. Two years ago, it was a controversial foul on Roseville Woodcreek’s Jordan Brown with 0.1 seconds left that Brown converted into free throws for a 69-68 victory. Then last year, a 40-foot buzzer-beating basket at the regulation horn by Junior Ballard helped Modesto Christian force overtime and then beat the Huskies.
This time, no last second free throws and no buzzer beaters hurt Sheldon. Head coach Joey Rollings’ squad got it done, although it had to come back from a 53-44 deficit in the fourth quarter to overturn Modesto Christian 64-61.
With the win, the Huskies (26-6, not including four forfeit losses) are expected to be the No. 2 seed in the CIF Northern California Open Division playoffs behind unbeaten and state No. 1 Salesian of Richmond. They started the week at No. 9 in the state, right above CIF Southern Section Open Division finalist Bishop Montgomery of Torrance (a team they’ve beaten).
Modesto Christian fell to 24-8, but the state No. 18-ranked Crusaders also could still be as high as a No. 3 seed. That’s because they own a head-to-head win over CIF Central Coast Section D1 champion Clovis West of Fresno, which is expected to also be placed in the NorCal Open Division.
After holding a 31-30 halftime lead, Modesto Christian came out smoking in the third period with a 15-2 run that featured several twisting layups from forward Alex Markviladze. Sheldon finally began to answer back and was down 48-39 heading into the fourth quarter.
Sheldon scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to cut the margin to 48-44, but the Crusaders got going again and stretched it back out to 53-44 and 55-46.
The biggest rally of the game then took place by the Huskies as they rolled up 11 straight points to take a 57-55 lead with a little more than two minutes left. The key sequence was a steal in the Modesto Christian front-court that led to a fast break lay-up by senior guard Justin Nguyen. Then just a half-second later on the in-bounds pass, Nguyen caught the Crusaders off guard with a swipe, grabbed the ball and laid it in again for the go-ahead points.
The two teams were tied again at 59-59 after a pair of free throws by Modesto Christian’s Dathan Satchell, but with 39 seconds left Sheldon junior Darren Tobias canned a reverse lay-up, got fouled and made a free throw for a 62-59 lead. Tobias scored another basket with 17 seconds left to make it 64-61, which set up Modesto Christian (like last year) having to try for a buzzer-beating three-pointer that would have tied the score. This time, the shot was off target, rebounded by the Huskies and the clock ran out.
“It was looking a little dim there,” said Rollings, who has won more than 600 games counting his years as a coach in Arizona and whose team hasn’t had junior standout Marcus Bagley in the lineup at all in the playoffs with a reported back injury. “Our shots were not falling, but then we got some key steals that led to some key baskets.”
Nguyen and fellow senior guard Kaito Williams both finished with 13 points to lead Sheldon’s scoring. Josh Williams picked up 10 rebounds while Tobias (who comes off the bench) had all nine of his points in that fourth quarter.
Satchell wasn’t hitting his shots early on, but found his rhythm, made all eight of his free throw attempts, and led all scorers with 18 points. Merkviladze (13 points) was joined in double figures by senior Aaron Murphy (13 points) and junior Michael Pearson (10 points). Murphy also grabbed 10 rebounds.
To get back to the CIF Open Division state final, Sheldon’s players and coaches are well aware that unlike in previous years when the CIF NorCal Open Division championship was played in a big arena setting like the Golden 1 Center this year may require winning as a road team in Richmond.
“We know it’s going to be tough and that Salesian is very tough,” Rollings said. “But maybe we’ll have Marcus come back and we’ve traveled all over. We couldn’t gave that game at our place and we know they can’t have it at theirs so it will be a neutral court no matter where we go.”
CIFSS D1: Santa Margarita Holds Off Chino Hills in OT
Perhaps history repeating itself will be a good omen for the boys basketball team at Santa Margarita. Back in 2008, when future NBA sharpshooter Klay Thompson was in uniform, the Eagles couldn’t quite keep pace with Mater Dei of Santa Ana in the Trinity League. This year, the Monarchs shared the league title with St. John Bosco of Bellflower, while the Eagles played a murderous overall schedule and finished in fourth place in league.
That big-game experience paid off for Santa Margarita in the CIFSS D1 title game versus Chino Hills, as it used good team defense, and a big shot from UCLA-bound senior Jake Kyman, to propel the team to a big comeback and a CIF Southern Section D1 title with a one-point (62-61) overtime victory at Cal Baptist University in Riverside. Will the big comeback win lead to history repeating itself with another Eagles’ team winning a state crown without winning a league title?
“I didn’t know that (about the 2008 team), but knowing that now definitely inspires me to show that anything can happen, it’s all possible,” said Kyman, who sent the game into overtime on a 3-pointer at the top of the key with seven seconds remaining.
That clutch shot, Kyman’s only points of the second half and overtime, made it possible for Santa Margarita (23-10) to overcome a 50-38 deficit and deny Chino Hills (20-10) its second consecutive section D1 crown and the third overall for the Huskies’ standout Onyeka Okongwu, who only lost the third playoff game of his career against 25 post-season victories.
Santa Margarita, which secured a likely No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the SoCal D1 regional behind the two CIFSS Open teams likely to drop down (Rancho Verde of Moreno Valley and St. John Bosco of Bellflower), outscored Chino Hills, 24-11, to close out the game. Kyman was one of three Santa Margarita players in double figures with 14 points (including 11 in the first half), with BYU-bound Shengzhe Li adding 12 points and USC-bound Max Agbonkpolo leading the way with 23 points and seven rebounds.
Okongwu, last year’s Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year and the No. 1 ranked player in the Cal-Hi Sports Hot 100, was the focus of Santa Margarita’s attention. Chino Hills coach Dennis Latimore felt Santa Margarita was the best defensive team his team faced so far this season. Santa Margarita coach Jeff Reinert’s goal was for Li to get as many minutes as possible on Okongwu and he was satisfied with his 18 minutes. Reinert also praised the defensive work of 6-foot-3 Tyler Hanna on The Big O. Hanna, who had plenty of experience going against talented big men such as the Mobley brothers of Rancho Christian of Temecula, played 10 minutes and had three rebounds and was a constant presence around the ball.
Okongwu was able to get past double teams and finished with 29 points, eight rebounds, six blocked shots and countless defensive alters. He had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation and with two seconds remaining in overtime on three-point heaves that were flat and rimmed off. He gave plenty of credit to Santa Margarita and the fact Okongwu was still able to put up big numbers is a testament to his overall talent.
“Most teams that double don’t have length like that,” Okongwu said.
Agbonkpolo, The Big O’s future teammate at USC, came up with a steal and what turned out to be the winning basket on a lay-up after he tipped the ball to himself with 19 seconds remaining in overtime. He also forced a held ball situation on Okongwu with seven seconds remaining.
The other double digit scorers for Chino Hills, which will be placed in the SoCal D1 regional in defense of its D1 state crown, were seniors Will Pluma and Nick Manor-Hall with 13 points each.
SJS D3: Weston Ranch Win Streak Hits 30
Most of the questions after Weston Ranch of Stockton won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 title on Saturday evening were about its prognosis for the upcoming CIF Northern California Open Division playoffs. The Cougars may have improved to 31-1 and upped their winning streak to 30 games by rolling over Central Catholic of Modesto 67-42, but do they belong in that top competitive equity bracket?
Based on all of the established rankings (including No. 15 in the Cal-Hi Sports State Top 20), and winning the title at the Modesto Christian tournament over a top field that included the host Crusaders, the answer would be yes. But it is known that some within the CIF state and section circles may only look at that one loss (in November) to Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and question the schedule that the Cougars (31-1) have played. And the only rankings that matter in whether Weston Ranch is Open Division or D1 really are the ones presented to the CIF by Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Mike Garrison. The only certainty heading into Sunday’s section commissioners seeding meeting is that unlike a lot of teams in Weston Ranch’s situation this is one group that isn’t timid about stepping up into that group of teams.
“Yeah, with the success we’ve had as a team, we think we can compete (in the Open) and we beg to be a part of that,” said Weston Ranch head coach Chris Teevan, who knows that a lot of teams over the years would rather play in a lower CIF division and improve chances of winning a state title. “We’ve had to win 30 games in a row to have this opportunity. We couldn’t have lost a single game. If we lose in the Open, our goal would be to try to get back into the Open next time.”
In winning the program’s second section title (the first was in 2016 over a Manteca squad that would later bounce back and win the CIF D3 state title), the Cougars displayed their usual balanced scoring and small lineup but with players who are all quick, athletic and can play multiple positions. Mi’Son Cotton led the way with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Three others in double figures were Devin Small (13 points), Titus Haley (12 points) and Gavin Wilburn (11 points). Wilburn also had eight rebounds.
Central Catholic (23-9) was hoping to stay close like it did in two previous meetings with Weston Ranch in the Valley Oak League, but was outscored 20-10 in the second quarter and 22-4 in the third. The Raiders were topped by Dayton Magana with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
“People said the same thing about playing Manteca a third time,” said Teevan, who has a team with a number of sophomores and juniors. “Age doesn’t matter. Experience does and these kids have been playing together for a long time. They don’t play other sports. This was a new experience for us, but the basketball doesn’t care how old the players are.”