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 Windward of Los Angeles and St. Mary’s of Stockton. Windward, the defending CIF Open Division state champions, turned the tables on league rival Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth in the CIFSS Open Division and handed the No. 1 Trailblazers their first loss of the season. In Sacramento, meanwhile, perennial state powerhouse St. Mary’s of Stockton earned its 12th straight section title in a season in which the Rams weren’t seeded No. 1 in the SJS’ top division. Another winner in the CIFSS event was Chaminade of West Hills in D1.
Note: Cal-Hi Sports’ editors Harold Abend 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 from Friday and Saturday. 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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Windward of Los Angeles head coach Vanessa Nygaard told the media in the post-game interview she was counting the days since her team lost to Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth by nine points in Gold Coast League play, but 28 days later it’s her Wildcats who have won the game the really counts at this point after the Los Angeles girls posted a very impressive 73-58 victory on Saturday in the CIF Southern Section Open Division title game at Cal Baptist University in Riverside.
“We didn’t feel good where we were and didn’t give them our best shot in the first game,” Nygaard said. “But we were really locked in tonight.”
State No. 5 Windward (25-5) trailed No. 1 Sierra Canyon 43-37 midway through the third quarter, but from there the Wildcats turned up the heat on both ends of the court and finished the game on a very impressive 36-15 run with the largest lead of the game coming at the final buzzer.
Windward star Charisma Osborne started a little slow but she had plenty of early and late help from junior McKayla Williams and senior Kaiyah Corona. In the second half, Osborne was at her best when she needed to be. The UCLA-bound senior finished with a game-high 27 points and four assists, with 20 points and three assists in the second half, and 12 points in the decisive fourth quarter after the teams were tied 48-48 entering the final period.
Williams added 25 points and nine rebounds with 12 points coming in the first half, and Corona had a double-double 17 points and 12 rebounds, with 10 of her points coming in the first half and seven rebounds in the final two periods.
“We were prepared and stuck together. We knew we had to play better than the first time,” Osborne said. “It also was really helpful to have McKayla and Kaiyah because it takes some pressure off me.”
All season, teams have been keying on and hammering Osborne, with a perfect example coming in a 61-49 loss to national top five Nevada Centennial of Las Vegas in early January. The Wildcats and Osborne also got roughed up in a 52-51 loss to current national No. 1 Miami Country Day in the championship game of the top division of the Nike TOC, but it was those type of games that prepared Osborne for her performance on Saturday night.
“Playing teams like Centennial got me ready for things and games like this,” Osborne remarked.
Even so, the reigning Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year could not have done it alone.
“Everybody’s game plan is to stop Charisma,” Nygaard said. “McKayla and Kaiyah stepped up tonight just like they have been this season ready to rumble and score.”
Windward has taken its lumps this season but no one can accuse them of dodging tough competition. Besides playing in the top division of the Nike TOC and losing by a point to the nation’s best, and then taking on Centennial, they travelled to state No. 4 Clovis West and lost to a Golden Eagles team that won the CIF Central Section Division I title on Saturday in a running clock 72-38 victory over cross-town arch rival and state No. 10 Clovis North.
“Our goal is not to go undefeated,” Nygaard said. “The goal is to win this game so we prepare accordingly with a tough schedule.”
Sierra Canyon seemed to just go flat. Its last lead of 48-46 came on a three-pointer by junior Ashley Chevalier, but Windward scored the last basket of the third quarter and the first seven points of the fourth quarter, and from there the Wildcats drew away while putting the clamps on a Trailblazers team that could only muster 10 fourth quarter points to 25 for the Wildcats.
“Every team gave us their best game and this time we didn’t handle it,” Sierra Canyon head coach Alicia Komaki remarked. “We had our chances on a lot of possessions but we didn’t capitalize on opportunities and ultimately we fell apart.”
Chevalier led Sierra Canyon (29-1) with 18 points and fellow junior Vanessa De Jesus added 15 points. Junior Alexis Mark chipped in with nine points and 12 rebounds, and junior Rosemary Odebunmi contributed nine points and eight rebounds but in the end it wasn’t nearly enough.
The reality is Windward has been in big games before, having won two straight state championships, and Sierra Canyon has not.
“We have girls here with big game experience,” Nygaard said. “Today we tapped into that big game experience.”
Both teams will be advancing to the Southern Regional Open Division playoffs with Windward looking like a No. 2 seed behind a Clovis West team with the head-to-head win. Sierra Canyon will likely be the No. 3 seed, meaning a potential re-match of the Gold Coast League rivals in the semifinals could be brewing.
St. Mary’s Peaking At the Right Time
As a No. 3 seed entering this year’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs, this looked like a prime opportunity for a team other than St. Mary’s of Stockton to win the blue banner in that bracket. And the team playing the Rams on Saturday in the title game were from the same town.
Upstart Bear Creek, however, started the game slowly in the bright lights of the big arena and while St. Mary’s doesn’t have that many holdovers from last year it was the Rams who played like they’ve been there before in their 66-52 victory over the Bruins.
Head coach Tom Gonsalves’ team, which got past No. 2 seed McClatchy of Sacramento in the semifinals earlier in the week, won the 12th straight section title in various divisions and the seventh in a row in Division I.
“We got what we earned (with the third seed) and we couldn’t complain,” said Gonsalves, who was actually a PE teacher for many years at Bear Creek until he retired from that part of his educational career nearly two years ago. “It was quite a war at McClatchy and we came into this game looking to carry over the pressure. Since the playoffs started, we’ve stepped it up to another level and have trusted one another.”
One player in particular who has noticeably improved over the last two months is 6-foot-2 junior Amaya Oliver. She had a double-double on Saturday with 17 points and 11 rebounds to go with 17 points and 16 rebounds from the McClatchy game. Oliver was considered one of the state’s top freshmen in 2017, but missed all of last year after suffering a knee injury in the summer of 2017.
“It’s just come with more time playing,” Oliver said. “I didn’t play for 18 months. I feel like the last two games we’ve played more together and we’ve been gaining that chemistry.”
The Bruins, who hadn’t lost to another team from the section all season and were up to No. 18 in the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings, got to within 16-15 early in the second quarter after falling behind 11-2 to start the game. That was when Anissia Cayton started connecting on long-range shots that pushed the lead back to 28-15. The Rams were never seriously threatened after that. Cayton ended with six 3-pointers and 18 points.
With its section and state championship pedigree, the win over Bear Creek is expected to push St. Mary’s (22-8) into the CIF NorCal Open Division and with a head-to-head win over CIF North Coast Section champion Bishop O’Dowd the team might not get seeded at the bottom of the bracket, either. Bear Creek will try to bounce back in the CIF NorCal Division 1 playoffs. The Bruins (27-5) actually had the high scorer of the game as sophomore guard Mya Blake fired in 21 points.
CIFSS D1: Whitfield powers Chaminade
One year after losing by a point to West of Torrance in this same title contest, the girls of Chaminade (22-10) were not to be denied and rode the shoulders of Alexis Whitfield to a 52-49 CIF Southern Section Division I championship game victory over a no quit M.L. King of Riverside in the first of four games on Saturday at Cal Baptist University in Riverside.
Whitfield, a 6-foot-2 junior forward who already has some solid mid-major interest including several West Coast Conference schools, hammered home a monster double-double 24 points and 25 rebounds with four assists four blocked shots and four steals.
“We came so close last year we weren’t going to let this game get away,” Whitfield remarked.
“We expect a lot from her but Alexis put up some numbers today that were unreal,” said Chaminade head coach Kelli DiMuro.
King led 5-0 early as it took Chaminade four minutes to score, but by the end of the third quarter the Mission League champions led 36-31 over the Inland Empire girls. The lead stretched to 40-31 in the early moments of the final period but from there the Wolves went on an 11-0 run to re-take the lead at 42-40 with four minutes left.
Chaminade went on an 8-0 run of its own keyed by Whitfield but King fought back with a 7-0 run and went ahead 49-48 with 43 seconds left on a three-pointer by sophomore guard Alexis Mead, but unfortunately for the local girls and their fans that would be King’s last tally.
After a basket by Whitfield put the Eagles back up 50-49, she stole the inbounds pass and the game’s final points came on two free throws with 5.5 seconds to go by junior Maiya Jackson.
“I’ve been here 22 years and this was one of the most emotional and exciting games of my life,” said DiMuro, the 2015 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year whose team that year won the CIF Open Division state championship.
Senior Leslie Hunter and junior Jasmine Rodriguez added nine points apiece for Chaminade and Rodriguez had six rebounds.
King (29-2) got great games from Mead and junior Nyah Moran but in the end the 23 points from Read and a double-double 12 points and 15 rebounds by Moran were just not enough.
“It wasn’t about lack of effort or lack of heart,” King head coach Jesus Martinez said. “My girls played hard but we just fell a couple of baskets short.”
Both teams will be moving on to the Southern Regional playoffs and await the decision of the CIF on Sunday as to where they will be placed. Chaminade will be in Division I with the CIF SS Open Division teams not taken for the SoCal Open Division and King will fall in somewhere below.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend