Girls BB: CIF Friday Finals

Lexi Love of Oakland Bishop O’Dowd reaches for the ball as Rosary’s Asia Avinger dribbles it up the court at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Photo: Willie Eashman.

It’s a Royal night at the home of the Sacramento Kings as Rosary of Fullerton knocks off Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland in CIF Division 1 title game. We also have recaps and photos from Oakland High’s victory for itself and its city in the Division III championship plus Caruthers winning it all in Division V.

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(Cal-Hi Sports Editor Mark Tennis wrote the recap for Oakland-McFarland.)

Proving just how tough the teams in the CIF Southern Section Open Division were this season, a team from the CIFSS that did not win a section playoff game won a state championship after Rosary Academy of Fullerton turned in a dominating performance in a Friday night 75-58 CIF Division I state championship victory over Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

It had never happened before, a team winning a state championship without winning a section playoff game, but with competitive equity now determining placement for regional seedings by division, Rosary (27-8) turns the trick in the D1 state title game after the Royals didn’t win any of its games in a new CIFSS Open Division pool play format games against Etiwanda, Windward of Los Angeles and Mater Dei of Santa Ana.

With the Royals the No. 7 team in the pecking order in the Southern Section for its Open Division, and the CIF state taking six teams for the Southern Regional Open Division, the Orange County girls were sent to Division I for the Southern Regionals, but surprisingly as only as No. 2 seed behind CIF San Diego Section Open Division champion Cathedral Catholic of San Diego.

Sophomore Kennedy Johnson of Bishop O’Dowd and senior Savannah Felix of Rosary lock arms while battling for position during CIF D2 state final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Rosary blasted Narbonne of Harbor City, barely edged Long Beach Poly 40-38 in overtime after splitting with them earlier in the season, then trounced cross-town rival Troy before handling La Jolla Country Day, 62-53, in the SoCal D1 championship. Troy was the other CIFSS Open Division team that was in the D1 SoCal bracket.

Against O’Dowd, the Royals looked like they were holding a Royal Flush. They trailed only once at 2-0 and led by as many as 23 with under two minutes to play before O’Dowd got some garbage time points.

“It feels surreal to be in this position again,” said Rosary head coach Richard Yoon, who guided the Royals to the 2017 Division III state championship meaning the 26-year veteran Rosary coach has now led the team to two state titles in the past three years.

“With the schedule we had, and playing some of the nation’s top teams (Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth and Windward), every game for us was a learning experience,” continued Yoon. “Playing against that type of competition helped us gain the confidence to win a state championship.”

The girl on the floor with the most confidence among a group of Royals’ girls who outplayed O’Dowd in every statistical aspect of the game was junior Asia Avinger. One of three transfers on the Royals, the All State First Team Sophomore at Los Alamitos last season finished with a game-high 24 points and six rebounds with three assists after coming into the game averaging 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. With Rosary only leading 6-4 early, the 5-foot-6 combo guard seemed to take over and proceeded to score nine of the team’s next 16 points to give Rosary a 22-14 lead it stretched to 41-28 at the half.

“My mentality is to put fear in your opponents,” Avinger said. “If I’m working hard than my teammates follow.”

“It was kind of hard working into a new team this season and trying to lead,” continued Avinger.” “But with this team I get more help so I can work on my game and weaknesses.”

Following the lead of Avinger was something Rosary did very well on Friday night.

“We shot the ball well (27 of 56 from the field) and we got a big surge from Asia in the first quarter and the girls took it from there,” Yoon remarked.

Savannah Felix, a 6-foot senior post who transferred from Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, had 16 points and six rebounds. Leading scorer Katherine “Kate” Goostrey, a junior guard who like Avinger was an All State First Team Sophomore selection last season, and came into the game as the Royals leading scorer at 12.4 points per game on a fairly balanced team, had 12 points, five rebounds and five assists, but early on her shots weren’t falling. In fact, until she hit a three-pointer late in the third quarter that gave Rosary a 54-36 lead, the dominance of Rosary was made apparent by the fact Goostrey only had two points at that stage of the game.

Goostrey had played at Golden 1 Center as a freshman on the 2017 D3 state champions so her experience helped.

“I told the team this is like any other stage. Just go out there and play,” Goostrey remarked. “As for me, when my shots weren’t falling, I was content to hit my teammates for assists. Hitting them for an assist feels better than making a basket.”

The third Rosary transfer, junior guard Nicole Rodriguez, who came over from Norco this season, added nine points and five rebounds. Yoon also got an excellent game from Kaylee Byon. The freshman guard had seven points, plus five rebounds and nine assists for a Royals team that had 19 assists to 10 for O’Dowd.

Even with Rosary hot early on, O’Dowd (24-10) still had its chances, however after closing to 27-24 in the mid second quarter the Dragons gave up a 14-4 run to create the 13-point halftime deficit.

Freshman Amaya Bonner (team-high 15 points and five rebounds) and sophomore sensation Kennedy Johnson (13 points and seven rebounds) played well and were a combined 13 of 24 from the field, but the rest of the O’Dowd girls were only 12 of 32 from the field combined, and the Dragons were only two of 13 on three pointers.

“This is only the 11th game these girls have played together with all our injuries, but I’m not making excuses. We struggled and tonight Rosary was the better team,” said O’Dowd head coach Malik McCord, who has won three state championships, twice in Division III in 2011 and 2015, and in the first Open Division game in 2013 when they trounced Windward and McCord was named State Coach of the Year.

“We didn’t want to let Asia get into her rhythm tonight but that exactly what happened,” continued McCord. “I’m not upset just disappointed we didn’t play or best, but with the adversity they overcame I’m very proud of this team. Its more than basketball, it’s about life’s lessons and this is a great group of young women that will be leaders in life.”

For the Rosary caravan, which not only included the team, parents, coaches and administrators, but also Yoon’s wife and five children ages 5-months to nine-years, the Royals and their entourage are returning to Orange County with the hardware once again.

Morgan Dunbar plays defense for Oakland during D3 state final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Div III: Oakland High Joins City
List Of State Champions

With an assist from their Oakland Unified School District superintendent (Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell) plus Oakland Section commissioner Sonjha Phillips, the recent Oakland teacher’s strike didn’t derail the Oakland High girls basketball team from its hopes of competing for a CIF state title.

The Wildcats were allowed to keep practicing and keep playing despite teachers in the district being on strike from Feb. 21-Feb. 28, and now they’ve turned that opportunity into hoisting that state title trophy. Head coach Orlando Gray’s girls won their championship on Friday in Sacramento with a 51-35 victory over McFarland.

“The teachers came out and supported us all the way,” said Gray. “Oakland is often perceived as not good. This is great because we don’t often get the publicity we’re getting today.”

Princess Paulmerie drives to the hoop for Oakland High during CIF D3 state final vs. McFarland. Photo: Willie Eashman.

After winning the Oakland Section title, the Wildcats (30-5) went to the CIF NorCal Division 3 playoffs as the second seed and won that crown by topping Union Mine of El Dorado 48-39.

The game against McFarland on Friday was similar as Oakland applied intense defensive pressure throughout. The Cougars not only scored just 13 points in the second half, but didn’t score at all in the third quarter until there was 3:09 left in the period.

Senior guard Morgan Dunbar led the Oakland defense with six steals and led the Wildcats in scoring with 20 points. Senior guard Khirah McCoy added 18 points.

“People look at Oakland as being not great,” Dunbar said. “I’m from Oakland and it feels great for us. I’ve been waiting four years for this (winning state) and to get it in my senior year is icing on the cake.”

Gray was an assistant coach when Oakland Tech won back-to-back CIF Division I state titles in 2004 and 2005. His daughter, McDonald’s All-American Alexis Gray-Lawson, was one of that team’s top players along with Devanei Hampton, who also was a McDonald’s All-American. The only other Oakland Section team to win a CIF state title was Fremont in 1998 when the Tigers nipped an Inglewood Morningside squad that had sophomore Lisa Leslie. On Saturday, the city will try to win another one when Oakland Tech plays in the D4 girls final against Northview of Covina.

“For me, it’s my third, so it’s not a big deal,” Gray said. “But it has been 14 years and that’s a long time to wait. This time, it seems like the stars lined up for us.”

McFarland (31-6) had the feeling of being a team of destiny coming into the day. The Cougars, seeking their first state title in girls basketball to go with the numerous state championships they’ve won in boys and girls cross country, won in their regional final on a basket with two seconds left in the game and won earlier by erasing a 20-point deficit. They couldn’t solve Oakland’s pressure defense nearly enough, however, and had 28 turnovers compared to just nine for their opponents.

Senior Neli Diaz led McFarland with 13 points and eight rebounds. The team’s other top scorer, Kathy Rodriguez, was in foul trouble and only had six points to go with 10 rebounds.

The Cougars were bolstered by a strong contingent of fans from their Kern County community. That happened primarily because the school was closed for the day so that as many students as possible could make the drive to Sacramento.

“We we found out about the school being shut down, we were humbled,” said McFarland head coach Johnny Samaniego. “Some of them were out there the other night and they’ve been with us the whole way.

“It was our first time being here and you’ve got to give it to Oakland. They were physical and played well. We didn’t come out of this the way we wanted, but it was a dream season. We couldn’t have done this with a script.”

Caruthers girls show their feelings after earning 1st CIF state title. Photo: Harold Abend.

Div. V: Travels Complete
For Caruthers

With what seemed like the entire student body in the stands, and the band pounding away, it was the Caruthers girls that did the pounding on the court in an impressive 62-38 CIF Division V state title championship victory over Ramona of Riverside in the first of six games on Friday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

“Ever since I started coaching these girls in fifth grade we’ve been talking about being here at the state championships,” Caruthers head coach Anna Almeida said. “This year, we talked about it from the beginning of the season. Our first goal was Valley (CIF Central Section) and then state.”

Sophomore guard Mikayla Duran has been one of the top players for Caruthers all season. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Caruthers bolted out to a 7-0 lead, and long before halftime the deal was more than sealed when Ramona could only manage three points between the mid-point of the first quarter and the early third quarter when the lead stretched to 46-11 and completed a 34-3 Blue Raiders run.

“Every game since the Valley championship we’ve kicked out solid in the first quarter. These girls were relentless,” said Almeida, whose team was a 56-44 winner over Coalinga in the CIF Central Section Division V title game and then hosted three games in the NorCals before traveling almost 500 miles to Eureka where the No. 3 seed was a 52-44 winner over top-seeded St. Bernard’s in the Northern Regional Division V championship.

After leading by 30 points after three quarters, Caruthers (32-4) pretty much emptied the bench in the final period which made the game a lot closer than it was.

Nine Blue Raiders girls scored with three in double-figures led by Jaque Magana with 13 points and seven rebounds. Felicia Ramirez added 12 points and seven rebounds and Jacklyn Kulo chipped in with 11 points and four assists.

Ramona (23-13) got a game-high 15 points from Lizbeth Garcia and nine points and 12 rebounds from Savannah Petty.

“We were the last girls team left from the Inland Empire and while we came up short the end result doesn’t define our journey,” Ramona head coach Brandon Fletcher said. “We represented Ramona, Riverside and the Inland Empire with pride.”

Caruthers wins its first ever CIF state championship and both teams were making their first ever state championship game appearance.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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