CIF Basketball Picks & Previews

In the last year of the CIF state basketball finals before the pandemic in 2019, Sierra Canyon girls head coach Alicia Komaki hugs senior Amanda Olinger after her team won Open Division title. She and the Trailblazers are back in the same game this year. At right, Barrington Hargress of Ribet Academy looks to shoot in D4 final vs Immanuel of Reedley. Ribet won that game, but the basketball program at the private school has since been disbanded. Photos: Willie Eashman.

Here are the predicted scores, what to watch for and more for each of the 12 CIF boys and girls basketball state championship games coming up this weekend in Sacramento. We will focus most on the Open Division and Division I, but also have the picks for each of the other divisions too. NorCal teams will be underdogs in the Open Division, but we think should do very well in the other divisions. Good luck to all teams participating.

Note: We hope you enjoy this free post on CalHiSports.com. Next week’s final state rankings in all divisions and some of our exclusive all-state teams (including juniors, sophomores and frosh) will be for Gold Club members only. Sign up today for our Gold Club for $3.99 per month or as low as $2.08 per month for a yearly subscription. For details, CLICK HERE.

Note: Our lead boys basketball analyst, Ronnie Flores, did the breakdowns for Open Division boys, Division I boys & D3 boys. Our lead girls basketball analyst, Harold Abend, did the breakdowns for Open Division girls, Division I girls & D4 girls. Editor and publisher Mark Tennis did the rest.

FOR MOST RECENT BOYS STATE TOP 25 RANKINGS (DONE BEFORE REGION FINALS), CLICK HERE.

FOR MOST RECENT GIRLS STATE TOP 25 RANKINGS (DONE BEFORE REGION FINALS), CLICK HERE.

(All games played at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento)
(All state rankings references to State Top 20s, which were done before any of this week’s games)

Open Division (Boys)
Centennial (Corona) 32-1 (SoCal) vs. Modesto Christian 29-5
(NorCal), Saturday, 8 pm

The marquee game of the CIF’s first basketball state championships event in three years will be exciting and full of talent fans will see play at colleges all over the country in a few years. The Huskies and Crusaders both play an exciting style, get up-and-down and can score on the interior or perimeter. Both also have plenty of incentive and motivation coming into this game.

For Modesto Christian, the No. 3 seed in the NorCal regional and the CIF Sac Joaquin Section D1 champ, it was getting over the hump in the open division. After winning two state titles in D5 under Gary Porter (1997, 2004), the Crusaders have been knocking at the door in the top division in recent years under Brice Fantazia. For Centennial coach Josh Giles, his program has finished ranked No. 1 in the state before, but that came during last year’s spring season when it chose to opt out of the regional playoff to participate in a NCAA-sanctioned live recruiting event in Arizona.

Centennial’s Josh Giles was State Coach of the Year after the 2021 spring season and would be a huge candidate to repeat except that we don’t ever do that as a nod to all of the great coaches in our state. Photo: centennialboysbball.com.

The Huskies are motivated to finish No. 1 on the court and capture the program’s first CIF state crown after coming up short in 2013-14 in D1. Centennial is a prohibitive favorite in this game, as it hasn’t missed a beat or had a bad outing all season. Centennial, ranked No. 5 in the FAB 50 National Rankings entering this week with its only loss to No. 2 Duncanville (Texas), looked every bit that good in its 83-59 pasting on FAB 50 No. 16 Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, which came into the regional final No. 2 in the state. If Ramsey Huff, the team’s only new starter this season, plays like he did vs. Sierra Canyon (20 points), Modesto Christian could be in for a long night.

The Crusaders beat a Campolindo team in their regional final, 56-53, that executes as well as Centennial. Campo nearly tied the game at the buzzer, and this Centennial team moves the ball as well as Campolindo, but its personnel is longer, quicker and can score in transition better. The Crusaders’ Prince Oseya (6-10) has made a difference as a shot-blocker in the playoffs (8 points, 3 blocks vs. Campo) and he’ll need to be on his game because junior Devin Williams (19 points, 6 blocks vs. Sierra Canyon) also wreaks havoc on shot attempts but also can step out and hit the perimeter shot or score in a variety of ways.

Sophomore Manasse Itete of Modesto Christian and Aaron McBride, a junior, will battle inside and both must stay disciplined in their shot selection and foul count. Fantazia will need a quality outing from his rugged forward to keep his team in range. It’s not a question of whether Donovan Dent, bound for New Mexico, and Jared McCain, a junior, are the state’s best backcourt duo, it’s just a question if any combo in the nation works as well as this duo does together. Dent and McCain are that good because of their shot-making ability and chemistry.

If any backcourt in the state can come close to matching Dent and McCain, it’s the Crusaders’ young duo of junior BJ Davis and sophomore Jamari Phillips. The latter is one of the best players in his class nationally and scored a team-high 20 points vs. Campolindo. Watching Davis and Dent will be worth the price of admission alone because of their ability to beat defenders off the dribble and create. Davis has come on this season and is a terrific facilitator and quality shooter. Watch for the production of Alex Argandar, a cagy veteran guard and the Crusaders’ unsung floor leader, and sophomore forward Drevon Johnson, who will have to step up in his allotted minutes. Modesto Christian also will have to close out well on shooters, stay out of foul trouble and withstand at least one Centennial run to pull off the upset.

This is an intriguing game, but more things have to go right for Modesto Christian to win than Centennial and the Crusaders can’t let Huff and/or Williams have monster games. If Phillips and Davis combine for 40 or more points, the Crusaders’ faithful will have hope down the stretch where anything can happen in a big-time state title game.

Prediction: Centennial 77, Modesto Christian 69

Open Division (Girls)
Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 29-2 (SoCal) vs. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 30-1 (NorCal), Saturday 6 p.m.

For the most part, the Trailblazers have relied on reigning State Sophomore of the Year and Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year leading candidate Juju Watkins, and sophomores MacKenly Randolph and Izela Arenas but they are deeper than those top three. Junior Crystal Wang has had some good games in the playoffs as has sophomore Christy Reynoso and junior Sofia Ruelas. Sierra Canyon may not be a one-girl team and has won championships without her, but there is no way the Trailblazers would be in the CIF Open Division championship without Watkins. Since the beginning of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs, the 6-foot-1 Watkins is averaging 28.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game for the seven games played. Against Cathedral Catholic in the opening round of the SoCal Open playoffs she went for a triple-double 37 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. In the CIF Southern Regional title game, Watkins had a double-double 29 points and 13 rebounds in the third-seeded Trailblazers 61-50 victory over top-seeded Etiwanda. During the same seven playoff games Randolph is averaging 13.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Arenas had 23 points in a win over Orangewood Academy and 17 against Bishop Montgomery.

The Monarchs are the consummate team and go seven deep with other role players contributing as well, however the girl that has been the statistical leader all season is Morgan Cheli. The budding sophomore is leading the team in points (14.9 ppg), rebounds (6.6 rpg) and steals (3.3) and is tied with Texas-San Antonio-bound senior guard Siena Guttadauro for assists at 3.1 per game. Guttadauro, who is averaging 9.9 points per game, had eight of Mitty’s first 10 points in the second-seeded Monarchs CIF Northern Regional Open Division 72-63 victory over top-seeded Carondelet. Guttadauro finished with a game-high 19 points, and Cheli finished with a double-double 14 points and 11 rebounds with five assists, two steals and two blocks. Seattle University-bound senior guard Noemi Bariteau added 13 points and is third on the team at 9.2 points per contest. A player who’s been coming off the bench for head coach Sue Phillips and doing a great job in the role is Seattle University-committed senior wing Makayla Moore. She had 15 points and five rebounds against Carondelet, and in the Monarchs come from behind 66-54 victory over Pinewood in the CIF Central Coast Section championship, Moore came off the bench to score 10 straight points when Mitty was down by 12. She finished with a team-high 25 points and six rebounds. Junior Maya Hernandez has improved all season and is at 9.0 points and is second in rebounds at 5.7 a game. Her twin sister, Haley Hernandez, has been playing a key role defensively in the playoffs.

This is a game that involves two teams that are both on a big roll and got to the championship game by avenging losses during the season in their respective regional title-game victories. In the case of Sierra Canyon, it did it twice, both times on the road. First, the Trailblazers bested No. 2 seed and host La Jolla Country Day, 63-62, in the SoCal Open semis after losing to them 73-71 in January at the Mater Dei Matt Denning Classic. Komaki and her girls followed that up with the win over Etiwanda after losing to them in the CIF Southern Section Open Division championship, 69-57. The Mitty win over Carondelet avenged a 61-50 loss in late December at the West Coast Jamboree. Both teams have been here before. Sierra Canyon is technically the defending champion since there were no CIF state championships the past two years. Komaki and her Trailblazers were the 2019 CIF Open Division state champions when they were a 69-51 winner over Pinewood. For Komaki, that was her fourth state championship in four appearances since taking the Sierra Canyon helm to begin the 21012-2013 season. The first three were consecutive. In 2013, it was in Division V and in 2014 and 2015 it was in Division IV. Mitty is second all time with 12 previous appearances in a CIF state title game and will tie Brea-Olinda with its 13th appearance. Phillips has won six state titles but in the Monarchs’ only appearance in an Open title game they lost as heavy favorites to Clovis West, 44-40. They won’t be favored in this one but they really aren’t an underdog either.

The match-up on Saturday in Sacramento will reunite Watkins with Phillips. Watkins was a member of the FIBA Americas Gold Medal winning 2021 USA Basketball U16 team that was coached by Phillips and was selected as the top player in the tournament. Phillips, who calls Watkins “a walking bucket” obviously knows her well but can she come up with a game plan to stop her? She will likely attack Watkins and try and get her into foul trouble. Remember, Juju fouled out of the first game with Etiwanda with her team still leading, and from there things went south. Mitty does have one disadvantage. The Monarchs haven’t played any national level teams like Sierra Canyon has and that could be a factor. This could very well be a game that comes down to a final possession and if Watkins has the ball for Sierra Canyon that could be the difference. We hate to make predictions because you can only make enemies and not friends but this feature traditionally has one so here you go.

Prediction: Sierra Canyon 59, Archbishop Mitty 57

Division I Boys
Damien (La Verne) 31-4 (SoCal) vs. Clovis North (Fresno) 22-11 (NorCal), Friday, 8 pm

Both teams play in terrific leagues, are well-coached and can execute from behind to win a close game. The Broncos tested themselves in top-shelf tournaments during the holiday season and those experiences paid off in the regional, as they used big runs to down No. 4 seed Miramonte of Orinda (70-68) in their regional opener and top seed Sacred Heart Prep (64-58) in the regional semifinals. It was a 19-0 run which erased a 48-33 deficit to Miramonte and a 25-8 second quarter advantage that erased an early deficit vs. Sacred Heart Prep. Coach Tony Amundsen’s club also erased a 17-point deficit vs. No. 5 seed Folsom in the regional quarterfinals and toppled No. 3 seed St. Ignatius of San Francisco, 58-56, after trailing by five points with three minutes remaining.

The catalyst in the regionals has been Amundsen’s son, sophomore point guard Connor Amundsen, who scored the Broncos’ last nine points, including the go-ahead jumper with 36 seconds remaining, finishing with 21 points in the win over SI. The unflappable talent had led this team while it not only faced multiple large deficits, but also while playing in tough road environments. Clovis North makes up for what it lacks in height with terrific pressure and close-out defense, which came up big for them on SI’s last possession. Senior Niko Jones has stepped up in big moments and getting junior Jaylen Bryant more involved has been key in the post-season. Bryant gives them presence, while sophomore Jordan Espinoza is capable of double-digit scoring on Friday night. Jones and his young brother Loukas Jones, a freshman, can stroke from the outside and the Broncos hope to get off to a solid start against the Spartans.

Clovis North is obviously capable of playing from behind, but doesn’t want to against a team with much more size that has also been getting better perimeter decision-making and patience in the post-season. The Broncos will have to show they can slow down junior center Jimmy Oladukon (6-foot-8) and UC-Riverside-bound forward Kaleb Smith, the latter who scored a team-high 16 points in the Spartans’ 58-53 win over No. 2 seed Crean Lutheran of Irvine in the SoCal regional final. The Spartans used a 13-0 run to take the lead down the stretch and also had to come from behind to defeat the same team to record their only victory in three CIF Southern Section open pool play games. B

Both clubs were waxed by state No. 1 Centennial of Corona (Clovis North was not at full strength), but the Broncos also turned some heads by defeating Modesto Christian, Centennial’s foe in Saturday’s open title game. Damien will counter Clovis North’s nothing-to-lose mentality with the senior leadership of point guard Spivey Word and Colorado-bound R.J. Smith. The regional final was the first game Smith was held under 19 points in the regionals and Word is playing like he doesn’t want his season to end. It will end on Saturday night, but we think Word will like the outcome because Clovis North is facing a foe with size and inside punch that will be a bit much to overcome.

Win or lose, Amundsen is getting his proper acclaim as one of the state’s best coaches and for Damien’s Mike LeDuc, a state title would be the zenith moment during the twilight of a career that has made him California’s second all-time winningest coach. LeDuc is making his first coaching appearance in a CIF state title game since 1989, when Mr. Basketball Tracy Murray led Glendora to the D2 title game and netted 64 points in a 89-83 loss to Menlo Atherton. That game was played at the Oakland Coliseum and was still tied for the all-time scoring record there including NBA games. It won’t be a bizarre game like that for LeDuc this time.

Prediction: Damien 67, Clovis North 61

Sylvia Fonongaloa is quite difficult to deal with on the interior of the Richmond Salesian offense and defense. Photo: Harold Abend.

Division I Girls
Windward (Los Angeles) 23-10 (SoCal) vs. Salesian (Richmond) 20-5 (NorCal), Friday at 6 p.m.

Coming into the season, the top player for the Pride was unquestionably Silivia “Via” Fonongaloa. But up until the start of the CIF Northern Regional Division I playoffs the 6-foot-1 senior was battling a nagging illness that at times left her energy low. Others, including senior Nevaeh Asiasi and juniors Makiah Asidanya and Sofia Fidelus, plus seniors Kaylie Edge and Georgia Pournaras picked her up. However, in the three NorCal D1 games so far, Fonongaloa has re-established herself as the team’s top player. She led the way in an opening round 80-51 win over Laguna Creek with 16 points and nine rebounds with three blocks. Fonongaloa followed that up with a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds in a 64-37 rout of Bishop O’Dowd in the semifinals. She led the way again in a 52-48 victory over St. Ignatius in the title game with a team-high 14 points. Asidanya has played well all season and it has continued throughout the playoffs. She leads a very balanced team in scoring with 10.4 points per game. Fonongaloa is at 9.6 ppg and leads the team with 5.0 rebounds a game. Asiasi and Fidelus are at 9.2 points and 9.0 points per game, respectively.

For Windward, season statistics were not available for but from what we know about its players and our sources of information, the three girls that led them to a 61-58 victory in the CIF Southern Regional Division I title game over Orangewood Academy have been the cornerstone for new head coach Ronald Cass. The top player is Princeton-committed junior guard Skye Belker. She had a game-high 27 points in the fourth-seeded Wildcats’ 80-72 overtime upset of top-seeded Rosary in the CIF Southern Regional Division I semifinal and she had 10 points and six assists against Orangewood Academy. Freshman Samari Bankhead, who we were impressed with when we saw her over the summer at a showcase event, led Windward with 16 points in Orangewood win. Senior point guard Maya Stokes had 13 points with three steals. She had nine points in the fourth quarter to help seal the win. Windward has other role players that could have an impact on the game including senior forward Kelise Jackson.

Salesian will be making its third appearance in a CIF championship state final, but head coach Stephen Pezzola and his girls will be looking for a first win. They were in the Open Division in 2014, the second year the CIF went to a format including an Open Division, and as a huge underdog to Long Beach Poly they lost 70-52. The other two appearances were in Division IV. They were throttled by La Jolla Country Day in 2012 and lost a heartbreaker in 2013 to Serra of Gardena, 62-60. In the past three appearances, the Pride were not the favorites but will be this time. They appear to be the deeper and more experienced team but unlike Windward they did not play in as tough an Open Division in the CIF North Coast Section playoffs and they lost to San Ramon Valley, and that dropped them to D1 for the state playoffs. Windward went 0-3 in the CIF Southern Section Open Division pool play and that ticketed the Wildcats for D1 in the state playoffs, but unlike Salesian the Wildcats have seen tougher teams all season. In CIFSS pool play, they lost to Etiwanda, Mater Dei and 60-58 to Rosary, so the 80-72 victory in the SoCals over Rosary avenged that loss and made them 2-1 against the Royals after a 61-55 victory in November. During the season, Windward has also faced Centennial of Corona, Cathedral Catholic, perennial national power Maryland Riverdale Baptist, Texas No. 10 Houston Summer Creek, La Jolla Country Day, Etiwanda during the regular season, Sierra Canyon in league play, and all were losses.

One can only surmise that tough of a schedule had the Wildcats ready for Orangewood Academy and will have them prepared for Salesian. In a bit of a twist, Cass will be one of two girls coaches in this year’s state finals that didn’t start the season as the head coach of their team. Vanessa Nygaard returned from the WNBA and replaced Ebony Hoffmann, who took the job for a season when Nygaard first left for the WNBA, but just past the midseason mark Nygaard left again to take the head coaching position with the Phoenix Mercury and the Wildcats had to get a new head coach. At the time, Windward was 15-6 so besides the three CIFSS playoff losses the only other loss was to Sierra Canyon in league. Salesian has played Archbishop Mitty twice and lost a close one in the championship game of the Iolani Classic in Hawaii and by 10 at the West Coast Jamboree. The Pride does have a win over Las Vegas Centennial and Corona Centennial but the only other top level team they’ve seen was national No. 2 DeSoto of Texas, but that was sandwiched between the Corona Centennial win and the Mitty loss at the Jamboree and that was over two months ago. Salesian is the favorite but Windward is going to make it close.

Prediction: Salesian 58, Windward 52

Division II Boys
Foothill (Tustin) 31-3 (SoCal) vs. Elk Grove 28-6 (NorCal), Saturday 4 p.m.

Both of these teams come into this game after losing in section semifinals and then coming back in a division that didn’t include the teams they lost to. Foothill lost in its CIF Southern Section D2AA semifinal to Long Beach Poly (which competed in the D1 SoCal playoffs). Elk Grove lost to Grant of Sacramento in the Sac-Joaquin D2 semifinals (then the Pacers were put in D1 for the regionals). Both of these clubs also are making their first-ever CIF state title game appearances, although Elk Grove has been State Team of the Year before (twice for 1974 and 1975 when legendary big man Bill Cartwright was there).

The Knights had to survive in perhaps the wildest regional playoff game in the state when they downed Carlsbad, 96-95 in three overtimes. They won their regional title, 46-41, over Los Altos of Hacienda Heights. Elk Grove made its free throws down the stretch when it defeated Branson of Ross, 60-54, for its NorCal crown.

Foothill having just had the experience of going up against 7-foot Jazz Gardner of Los Altos should help greatly against Elk Grove since one of the strengths of the Thundering Herd is 6-foot-8 DaJon Lott. If the Knights can do the same against a big man in this game, Elk Grove may need its leading scorer, Ameere Britton, to go off for some big numbers. He’s more than capable of that, too, with an 18.2 ppg mark. Britton had 25 in the win vs Branson and he had 32 when the Herd beat NorCal Open team Sheldon once in two league matchups.

Senior guard Cruz Billings leads the Knights in scoring with 13.2 ppg. Six-foot-six Mikey Mazurie also had some magical moments during the team’s run to the SoCal title. They got to play all of their regional games, however, in their home gym. It’s a long way to Sacramento and Elk Grove will be the only local team playing for a state title in Sacramento.

Prediction: Elk Grove 63, Foothill 60

Division II Girls
Sage Hill (Newport Beach) 26-10 (SoCal) vs. San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 27-6 (NorCal), Saturday at 2 p.m.

It’s easy to get caught up in the Sage Hill backstory that some of the younger players were part of the Mamba Academy club teams and were friends/teammates with three of the players who were killed in the helicopter crash in January of 2020 that also claimed NBA legend Kobe Bryant. But that’s also not focusing on the main story about this team and these coaches who are playing for their school’s first CIF state title.

It’s also clear in looking over the teams and their schedules that it should be viewed as an upset for Sage Hill to win in this game. The easy comparison is that SJM has a blowout 68-44 win over the same Corona Santiago club that the Lightning just edged, 43-41, for the SoCal title on a game-winning shot with three seconds left by Kat Righeimer. But the Panthers have just been a very good team going up against the top Open Division and D1 teams in Northern California. They have one loss by one point to St. Mary’s of Stockton and they were in the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree where they lost in one of those games 61-56 to nationally ranked DeSoto of Texas. Sage Hill does have one win over SoCal D1 finalist Orangewood Academy and has played Mater Dei, but it’s not quite the equal of SJM’s schedule.

The Panthers also have reached the state final despite a coaching change in mid-January when former three-time Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year Jackie White was replaced by current interim head coach Verenique Warren. White led an SJM team to a NorCal TOC title before the CIF started state championships, but the school has not won a CIF state title before. The Panthers still have the same players, however, after the coaching change and one of them will be the key to slow down if the Lightning want to win. That would be forward Meadow Roland, who is averaging more than 19 ppg. Roland was the Fresno Bee Player of the Year from last spring and has four D1 offers. The team also has another big girl that Sage Hill will need to deal with in Alexis Swillis, who blocked six shots in the 50-38 regional title game victory vs Antelope.

Head coach Kerwin Walters of Sage Hill has crafted a lineup that is balanced, focused and has several girls who can hit the three-pointer. Emily Eadie also is a good inside presence. The Panthers have to be the pick, but Sage Hill winning would be more of a Hollywood ending.

Prediction: San Joaquin Memorial 61, Sage Hill 56

Kevin Kremer led Pleasant Valley to a CIF state title in 2018.
Photo: Willie Eashman.

Division III Boys
Venice 21-9 (SoCal) vs. Pleasant Valley (Chico) 31-3 (NorCal), Friday, 4 pm

This is a matchup of two teams that won’t know much about each other, but will be confident in their ability to win. The two communities where the schools are located are quite different but what the programs have in common is playing tough opposition to ready them for a regional playoff run. Pleasant Valley only lost to a team from Las Vegas, one from the Bay Area and to NorCal’s top overall program in the open division era (Sheldon of Sacramento), while Venice lost its Western League contest to eventual section open champ L.A. Fairfax in overtime, 64-61.

For Pleasant Valley, the CIF Northern Section D3 champions, playing in this game isn’t much of a surprise, as it dominated its region as NorCal’s top seed in this division. The Vikings dismantled No. 16 seed Santa Cruz (70-42), No. 8 seed Menlo School (81-36), No. 5 seed Lincoln of San Francisco (63-51) and No. 11 seed Bullard of Fresno (56-37) to advance to meet the Gondoliers. Pleasant Valley won the state title in this division in 2018 and enters this contest riding a 14-game winning streak, whereas Venice bounced back from losing in the first round of the CIF L.A. City Section open playoffs to earn its first berth in a CIF state final. The Gondos advanced over No. 12 seed Frontier of Bakersfield (64-60), No. 13 seed El Camino Real of Woodland Hills (54-34), No. 1 seed Rancho Verde of Moreno Valley (54-49) and No. 3 seed Viewpoint of Calabasas (62-55).

Pleasant Valley doesn’t have a star like the Kevin Kremer-led 2018 team, but coach Tim Keating has three terrific scoring options in Noah Thomas (16.1 ppg), Chase Mitchell (13.5 ppg) and Luke Kremer (12.5 ppg) and a good lead guard in Ned Joyce. Thomas can score from the outside, while Mitchell and Kremer can mix it up and are good rebounders. Pleasant Valley’s forwards will have to slow down Venice’s Tyler Hunt, one of SoCal’s most underrated players. The sophomore wing forward is capable of big scoring outings, can score on the offensive glass and has come up big in key games. He had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the big win over favored Viewpoint in the regional final and 18 points against a Rancho Verde team that is capable of competing with the state’s best teams. Venice senior Devyn Johnson is a double-digit scoring guard, while sophomore Noah Ta is a terrific shooter and spark plug off the bench. Coach David Galley will combat Mitchell and Kremer with Percy Jackson and Aidan Donald, both who bang around inside and look for opportunities when Venice reverses the ball and gets out in transition. Venice rotates its guards and looks for the hot hand, but in the big arena setting the outside shooting may not fall quite like it will be necessary to offset the Vikings’ scoring on higher percentage shots.

Prediction: Pleasant Valley 63, Venice 58

Division III Girls
La Salle (Pasadena) 31-2 (SoCal) vs. Oakland Tech 20-11 (NorCal) Friday at 2 p.m.

Judging by the win-loss records of these two teams, you might think that La Salle is the big favorite. But ever since the D3 north and south brackets were released by the CIF, Oakland Tech has simply seemed misplaced too low according to competitive equity. The Bulldogs actually have a head-to-head win over San Joaquin Memorial (favored to win D2 state title) and all of their losses are to NorCal D1 and Open Division squads. One of those was just by six points to Clovis West.

Tech also has some recent CIF success that makes the Bulldogs a favorite. They won the 2019 CIF D4 state title and then two years ago were slated to be in the 2020 CIF D2 final before the event was cancelled due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Head coach Leroy Hurt directed both of those teams and is back. His club was absolutely dominant in getting to the NorCal D3 final, but had to go to 30-3 Lincoln on the road as a No. 3 seed playing at a No. 1. The whole town of Lincoln seemed to show up and the Zebras got close at one point in the fourth quarter, but Tech won, 51-46.

The key for La Salle may be how well 5-foot-10 sophomore Ryann Riddle does on the inside. She had 15 rebounds in the team’s 62-49 win in its regional final over Porterville, but Tech has a monster in the middle with 6-foo-2 junior Sophia Askew-Goncalves. She’s had a high of 27 rebounds in one game this season. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer has been junior guard Mari Somvichian, who averages 14.1 ppg.

While Tech may have the edge inside, the Lancers have a great player on the outside in sophomore Audrey Chen. She has been their leader in all stat categories except rebounding. Chen has fired in 14.5 ppg and also has had 7.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.2 steals per game. This is La Salle’s first-ever CIF state final.

Prediction: Oakland Tech 56, La Salle 52.

Oakland Tech head coach LeRoy Hurt looks out onto the court during 2018 D4 state final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Division IV Boys
Scripps Ranch (San Diego) 25-11 (SoCal) vs Justin-Siena (Napa) 21-11 (NorCal), Saturday 12 noon

Two of the top players for Scripps Ranch, 6-foot-8 junior center Jax Leatherwood and 6-foot-2 forward Lamont Wilkerson, were both outstanding in football last December when the Falcons won the CIF D2-A state title with a win over Wilcox of Santa Clara. Leatherwood, who threw 51 TD passes and is now getting D1 offers, has been getting double-doubles in hoops. If Scripps Ranch can get a win over the Napa school, it would become just the fourth school in CIF state history to win football and basketball (boys) state titles in the same school year. Since 2006 when CIF football re-started after a 79-year hiatus, the others have been Serra of Gardena (2009-10), St. John Bosco of Bellflower (2013-14) & Chaminade of West Hills (also 2012-13).

What also is hard ignore for these two teams is that both of them had losing records in their league (Scripps at 3-5 with Justin-Siena at 5-7). The Falcons did come back to beat league rival Madison of San Diego in the SD Section D3 playoffs after losing three in a row to the Warhawks from earlier in the season.

The Braves spoiled dreams of a Ranch bowl between Scripps Ranch and Liberty Ranch of Galt with their 42-38 victory in the NorCal final. They also had to survive an overtime win against Enterprise of Redding in the regional playoffs. Trevin Hightower, a 6-foot-6 junior, has been a standout for Justin-Siena all season and has averages of 12.6 pts and 8.3 rebounds per game. It would be a great moment to see head coach George Nessman win a state title, too. He became the AD and basketball coach at the school after a long career in basketball coaching that included 150 wins at De La Salle of Concord (1984-1993) plus Nessman is a former college head coach at San Jose State (2006-2013).

While Leatherwood and Wilkinson can do damage for Scripps, the team’s leading scorers have been Caden Flint and Jarod Balaoing. The two guards both hit for 13.5 ppg.

Prediction: Scripps Ranch 55, Justin-Siena 49.

Division IV Girls
Imperial 28-6 (SoCal) vs. Branson (Ross) 23-8 (NorCal), Saturday 10 a.m.

Head coach Trey Mitchell has a fairly young team. He has one senior starter while three juniors and a freshman round out the starting five. The Bulls’ top player is 5-foot-11 junior wing Hannah Golan. She had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the third-seeded Bulls’ 51-45 CIF Northern Regional Division IV title game victory over No. 12 seed Argonaut of Jackson. Another player to look for is senior guard Jaliyah Wiggins. Not only is she the only senior starter, Wiggins is one of only three seniors on the 13-player roster. She had 11 points and five assists in the Argonaut win. The other two junior starters are guard Isabella Arauz-Moore and guard Georgia Oliver. A player that turned our heads when we saw her early in the season in a tournament win over Alameda Encinal is freshman starter Avery Myerberg.

Imperial has a young team just like Branson. The Tigers’ top player is junior forward Sierra Morris. The 5-foot-9 Morris leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. She had eight points and nine rebounds in the 52-46 CIF Southern Regional Division IV championship win by the sixth-seeded Tigers over top-seeded Yucca Valley. The second leading scorer is freshman combo guard Neyeli Cardona at 9.2 points per game plus 2.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 5.5 steals per contest. She led the way against Yucca Valley with 14 points including four three-pointers to give her 52 on the season. A third impact player is junior Amy Riley. The 5-foot-9 forward had 10 points and six rebounds against Yucca Valley.

Branson has played a much tougher schedule than Imperial. Of the team’s eight losses, one is to Archbishop Mitty and two are in league to CIF North Coast Division 4 champion Marin Catholic. Branson was the CIF NCS D5 champion with a lopsided victory over a San Domenico (San Anselmo) team playing for a D5 state championship. The Bulls also had a close loss to a Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco team that was placed in Division I for the Northern Regional playoffs. Imperial has not played anywhere near the kind of schedule Branson has so that could be a huge factor. Imperial will be making its first-ever appearance in CIF state championship title game. Branson has been in two and won both with back-to-back Division V victories in 2007 and 2008 that were ironically under current San Domenico head coach Mike Fulton. Everything points to a Branson victory and we agree.

Prediction: Branson 58, Imperial 50

Division V Boys
Chaffey (Ontario) 24-12 (SoCal) vs. Stuart Hall (San Francisco) 22-12 (NorCal), Friday, 12 noon

If Chaffey is able to win this game, computer rankings might be able to be thrown in the trash, or at the minimum not given superiority status over any and all other evaluations of teams. This is because Stuart Hall comes into the day with a computer ranking of more than 200 spots higher than the Tigers.

The Knights didn’t just lose in the CIF North Coast Section D4 playoffs to University of San Francisco, they got blown out by 74-42. For them to reach the D5 state final is another example of competitive equity seeding, but it also could be argued that if the NCS went by it more than University wouldn’t have been in D4. That team, by the way, lost in the NorCal D2 playoffs to St. Francis of Mountain View. In the NorCal D5 final, Stuart Hall played shut down defense in downing Priory of Los Altos Hills, which is the team that toppled top seed Cloverdale in the regional semifinals. In the team’s 44-37 win, Brandon Lum led the way with 14 points.

Chaffey, a school founded in 1911 and making its first ever CIF state finals’ appearance, bounced back from a loss to Villanova Prep in the CIFSS D5AA finals to reach the D5 state final. The Tigers won in their regional final, 44-37, over La Quinta of Westminster.

Stuart Hall as a school does have CIF state finals experience. That came in 2018 when the Knights lost in the D4 championship to View Park of Los Angeles.

Prediction: Stuart Hall 48, Chaffey 41

Division V Girls
Shalhevet (Los Angeles) 23-6 (SoCal) vs. San Domenico (San Anselmo) 23-11 (NorCal), Friday 10 a.m.

If Shalhevet was playing after sundown or on Saturday, the CIF would have had to change the time of this state final. The early start, though, will be fine for the Firehawks’ girls, who are looking to win their Jewish religious school’s first-ever state title. They got there with a 62-52 win in the SoCal final over a Victory Christian of Chula Vista squad that based on the players on their roster was thought to be favored. Shalhevet has shown over the last couple of weeks that it has some players to watch as well. Center Talia Tizabi has been a force on both ends of the court while sophomore Ariel Grossman has been one of the best three-point shooters.

San Domenico is known for being extremely well-coached by Mike Fulton, who is the school’s AD and in 2020 guided the boys to the NorCal D5 title. That team, though, obviously didn’t get to play for the state title. Like Shalhevet, San Domenico was a No. 4 seed for the regional playoffs. A 54-48 win over University of San Francisco put the Panthers into this game. They bounced back in the regionals after losing to D4 state finalist Branson in the NCS D4 section playoffs.

Prediction: San Domenico 47, Shalhevet 45

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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One Comment

  1. Lee Lutz
    Posted March 11, 2022 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    GREAT ARTICLE

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