Salute to Saturday CIF Finalists

Brookside Christian of Stockton head coach Luke Williams (left) gathers with players at a scrimmage the school held on Friday to celebrate team’s accomplishments. Pretty much all schools in the state were closed by the end of that day for two to three weeks due to the coronavirus. At right is junior Olivia Williams from NorCal Open Division champion Archbishop Mitty. Photos: Clifford Oto / RecordNet.com & @mitty_wbb / Twitter.com.


There were 11 teams that for sure were supposed to have played on Saturday at the Golden 1 Center in the CIF state basketball championships. There also was a 12th that would have played as NorCal Open Division champion (but that title game wasn’t played either). As a salute to the teams and players we won’t get to see due to the event’s cancellation (we have gone to every CIF state championship since the event began in 1981), here is a lineup of those squads. Congratulations on a great season to boys teams from Sheldon (Sacramento)/Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland), Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth), Weston Ranch (Stockton), St. Francis (La Canada), Brookside Christian (Stockton) and Bakersfield Christian plus girls teams from Archbishop Mitty (San Jose), La Jolla Country Day, Oakland Tech, Palisades (Pacific Palisades), Sierra Pacific (Hanford) and Lancaster.

Note: There will be final state rankings for each division in which one of the two finalists will be ranked lower than the other one, but to be respectful of the state championship event being cancelled for the first time we won’t mention rankings in this post. We’ll never know which one of the lower-ranked teams would have been able to pull off an upset.

This is a free post for CalHiSports.com. Final state rankings for both boys and girls basketball as well as some of the upcoming all-state teams plus state record updates as they arise will be for Gold Club members only. We’re in our 41st year of doing weekly rankings in football, boys & girls basketball, baseball and softball. If you’re not a member, CLICK HERE.

OPEN DIVISION BOYS

Sierra Canyon Trailblazers (Chatsworth)
Final Record: 30-4
Head Coach: Andre Chevalier
SoCal Regional Championship: With three minutes left, Sierra Canyon’s 17-game postseason win streak and its No. 1 overall state ranking all looked in dire straights with an 11-point deficit against state No. 2 Etiwanda. But the Trailblazers ramped it up with a 13-0 run to end the game and stunned the Eagles 63-61 on a game-winning jumper at the buzzer by Ziaire Williams. On the final play, Williams took an inbounds pass and dribbled around the court himself until he got the opening he needed, fired up a clean-look shot and that was it. Williams and his fellow McDonald’s All-American, B.J. Boston, both made big plays down the stretch. Boston canned a three-pointer that tied the game at 61-61 and finished with 26 points. Williams had 17.
History: After winning the program’s first two CIF Open Division state titles (and second and third overall including a D5 title in 2015) in the past two seasons, the Trailblazers were hoping to become the first team to win three in a row in the CIF Open Division (which began in 2013). The overall state record is four in a row, first set in 2003 by Price of Los Angeles (D5) and tied in 2014 by Mater Dei of Santa Ana. The Monarchs won the first two CIF Open Division titles in 2013-14 after winning D1 titles from 2011-12.

Sheldon Huskies (Sacramento)
Final Record: 28-5
Head Coach: Joey Rollings
NorCal Regional Championship: Not played vs. Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland. Sheldon did get to play in its regional semifinal game last Tuesday night in a matchup that was supposed to have been played the previous Saturday at Cosumnes River College but was cancelled, then put back on at Dublin. The Huskies held off the Gaels with a blocked shot and a missed three-pointer in the closing seconds of a 59-58 triumph. Marcus Bagley, who has signed with Arizona State, ended his career with a game-winning layup that gave Sheldon the lead and he scored 27 points.
History: With a 0-3 record in state finals (including losses the last two years to Sierra Canyon in the Open Division), the Huskies were hoping to win their first CIF state crown. Their first loss in a state final was in 2012 in D1 to Mater Dei.

Bishop O’Dowd Dragons (Oakland)
Final Record: 23-7
Head Coach: Lou Richie
NorCal Regional Championship: Not played vs. Sheldon (Sacramento). Richie said after his team won in the regional semifinals over Archbishop Mitty of San Jose that he told his team to view it “as their state final” because he wasn’t certain another game would happen. He turned out to be correct. Since one of the team’s top players was freshman Jalen Lewis, the Dragons could be near the top of the NorCal heap for the next three years.
History: The Dragons are the only NorCal team to have won an Open Division state title and did that in 2015 in an overtime classic that also denied Mater Dei from winning its fifth in a row.

La Jolla Country Day’s outside-inside duo of Te-hina Paopao and Breya Cunningham was hard to stop all season. Photo: Erik Boal.


OPEN DIVISION GIRLS

La Jolla Country Day Torreys
(La Jolla)

Final Record: 32-1
Head Coach: Terri Bamford
SoCal Regional Championship: Sure, Oregon-bound Te-hina Paopao was phenomenal with 32 points, but the bucket that sparked La Jolla Country Day to the regional title was half-court, buzzer-beating swish from freshman guard Sumayah Sugapong that gave the Torreys a 34-32 lead at halftime against Windward of Los Angeles. The Wildcats, looking to win their third state title in four years, had led for most of the first half. Freshman Breya Cunningham had another solid outing with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Paopao had 14 points in the fourth quarter alone. Not being able to see her on the state’s biggest stage in four years due to injury, misfortune and now the virus is one of our biggest disappointments about the cancellation.
History: Bamford would have been going for her fifth CIF state title. One of the state’s winningest head coaches with more than 600 wins got her last one in 2015 in D5. Her team had a 62-54 win earlier this season over Archbishop Mitty at the Nike TOC in Arizona.

Archbishop Mitty Monarchs (San Jose)
Final Record: 26-3
Head Coach: Sue Phillips
NorCal Regional Championship: Having first to relocate their regional final to Gunn (Palo Alto) and then to Miramonte (Orinda), the Monarchs still took care of business after a slow start and defeated St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda, 69-53. Ashley Hiraki, headed to Cal State Northridge, led the way with 18 points. Olivia Williams chipped in with 11 points as did junior guard Hunter Hernandez, who was an inspiration all season for her comeback from a ACL knee surgery. All of Mitty’s players except one will be back next season.
History: If Phillips had won in the state final, she would have gotten to seven CIF titles and would have tied the state record for a coach currently held in a tie between Kevin Kiernan (Santa Ana Mater Dei & Fullerton Troy) and Tom Gonsalves (Stockton St. Mary’s). She won her 700th game early in the season. Mitty’s last girls basketball state title was won in 2015 in D2.

DIVISION II BOYS

St. Francis Golden Knights (La Canada)
Final Record: 30-8
Head Coach: Todd Wolfson
SoCal Regional Championship: UC Irvine-bound Andre Henry connected for 17 points with Frederick Harper hitting for 13 as the Golden Knights defeated Roosevelt of Eastvale 53-44. They had a 60-33 win over the same team in the CIFSS D2-AA playoffs, but the Mustangs played much better in this matchup. They got the lead down to 46-44 with 3:13 left, but Henry made a three-point play and Roosevelt couldn’t get closer.
History: St. Francis had not clinched a CIF state title game berth before, but Wolfson became just the fifth coach in state history to qualify two different schools for the state finals. He was the head coach at Chaminade of West Hills in 2014 when that school’s boys team played and won in the D3 state championship. The other four are Frank Allocco (Walnut Creek Northgate & De La Salle); Harvey Kitani (L.A. Fairfax & San Pedro Rolling Hills Estates); Don Lippi (Oakland Skyline & Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame) and Steve Singleton (Compton Dominguez & Eastvale Roosevelt).

Gavin Wilburn has been one of the top defenders and rebounders in Northern California for the past two seasons. Photo: Sean Kahler Photography (FrontRowPreps.com).


Weston Ranch Cougars (Stockton)
Final Record: 24-12
Head Coach: Chris Teevan
NorCal Regional Championship: Jordahn Johnson converted a layup with 4.5 seconds left to give the Cougars the lead in their 62-61 victory over St. Patrick-St. Vincent of Vallejo. The team’s most impressive player, senior Gavin Wilburn, assisted on the basket and defended on the final possible game-winning shot by St. Pat’s. Weston Ranch had advanced to the regional final with win over St. Mary’s of Stockton in the semis.
History: This is the first regional title for the Cougars and it would have been their first state title. In 2016, they did have more than one win over league rival Manteca when that team won the D3 state crown.

DIVISION II GIRLS

Palisades Dolphins (Pacific Palisades)
Final Record: 26-9
Head Coach: Adam Levine
SoCal Regional Championship: While the school’s boys team lost in its regional final, the girls got it done by beating Santa Monica 51-38. Those two schools are only three miles apart. Three of those on the Palisades roster are sisters Taylor, Sammie and Elise Arnold. Two of the team’s top players were Jane Nwaba and Demonnie Lagway.
History: The Dolphins have been in one previous state final and were hoping to win the school’s first state title. They lost in the 1999 D1 girls championship to an Archbishop Mitty of San Jose squad that ended 31-0.

Oakland Tech Bulldogs (Oakland)
Final Record: 26-8
Head Coach: LeRoy Hurt
NorCal Regional Championship: Stephanie Okowi was the D4 State Player of the Year last season partly because she grabbed a D4 state finals record 24 rebounds in leading Tech to a win against Northview of Covina. In this year’s D2 regional final, she had 28 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in a 57-41 win against Clovis.
History: Hurt should get Bay Area Coach of the Year consideration in guiding the Bulldogs to the D2 state final after they moved up from D4, which is the state division they conquered last season. Tech also captured back-to-back state titles in D1 in 2004 and 2005.

Stephanie Okowi, a junior at the time, soars for layup during Oakland Tech triumph in D4 state final last year at Golden 1 Center. Photo: Willie Eashman.


DIVISION IV BOYS

Bakersfield Christian Eagles (Bakersfield)
Final Record: 27-6
Head Coach: Garrett Brown
SoCal Regional Championship: The Eagles went on the road and used their inside power to grind past Palisades of Pacific Palisades 57-43. Pali had won in the same gym in the regional semis over freshman sensation Mikey Williams and his team at San Ysidro in a game that got LeBron James to check out. BCHS won the CIF Central Section D3 title so being in D4 for the regionals looked like it would be a good spot and indeed it was as the team’s closest regional game was six points.
History: This would have been the first appearance by the Eagles in a boys or girls basketball state final. They have been in two state football title games, and just last December defeated Rancho Cotate of Rohnert Park in the D3-A championship. If Bakersfield Christian had won in this state final, it would have become the fourth school in state history to win football and boys basketball state titles in the same school year. The others have been Serra of Gardena (football D3 2009 & basketball D3 in 2010); St. John Bosco of Bellflower (football Open Div 2013 & basketball D2 in 2014) and St. Patrick-St. Vincent of Vallejo (football D6-A in 2016 & basketball D4 in 2017).

Brookside Christian Knights (Stockton)
Final Record: 26-8
Head Coach: Luke Williams
NorCal Regional Championship: The Bruins didn’t play this game to advance since their scheduled opponent, Lincoln of San Francisco, had previously dropped out of the tourney. It’s a different situation than Sheldon-O’Dowd boys because that was a scheduled game that didn’t happen. Brookside players and coaches already were preparing for the state final. Brookside Christian went on the road in its regional semifinal game and beat Hoover of Fresno 52-48. Geronimo De La Rosa, who is from the Dominican Republic, averaged nearly 24 ppg for the season.
History: This would have been Brookside’s second CIF state title appearance. The first was a loss in the 1998 D5 state final to Pacific Hills of Los Angeles. There won’t be any future attempts since Brookside Christian is closing at the end of the current school year.

DIVISION IV GIRLS

Lancaster Eagles
Final Record: 24-8
Head Coach: Jessica Morrison
SoCal Regional Championship: After losing in the CIFSS D3AA semifinals to Santa Monica (a team that made it to the D2 regional finals), the Eagles were given the top seed for D4 and took advantage with an impressive run to a regional title. They topped Ontario Christian and state leading scorer Chloe Briggs, 46-36, to stamp their eventually cancelled ticket to Sacramento. Junior Rayshanti McNeal-Price averaged more than 15 ppg for the season.
History: Lancaster High began in 1995 and was going to make its first appearance in a CIF state final. It is possible that the CIF will still count appearances for each team in the cancelled state finals even though “appearances” wouldn’t technically be correct.

Sierra Pacific Golden Bears (Hanford)
Final Record: 29-7
Head Coach: Amy Bush
NorCal Regional Championship: It looked a bit skewed that this team was only a No. 11 seed and that was proven correct when the Golden Bears went to Colfax and beat the top-seeded Falcons 52-39. Senior Celeste Lewis had a team-high 14 points. Senior teammates Annabelle Saavedra and Alana Roberts were right behind with 12 points.
History: It was just two years ago when Sierra Pacific made its first CIF state title appearance and rolled to the CIF D5 crown. The Golden Bears were looking to win their second in a higher division.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports


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