A Day/Night At Golden 1 Center

Marcus Washington (12) and Gavin Sykes were standing tall for Modesto Christian inside the Sacramento Kings’ media center. At right, St. Mary’s of Stockton head coach Alle Moreno was all smiles getting ready to speak to the media after team’s win over Folsom. Photos: Mark Tennis.

CIF section basketball finals played on a Wednesday are not the norm, but the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section and Golden 1 Center got it done so that this year’s finals could still be played at the NBA arena. Big winners among the six championships decided during the day & night were Modesto Christian (D1 boys) and St. Mary’s of Stockton (D1 girls). Also earning blue banners were Vista Del Lago of Folsom (D3 girls), Sacramento (D3 boys), Whitney of Rocklin (D2 girls) and Vanden of Fairfield (D2 boys).

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So what in the world does worldwide pop star Madonna have to do with this year’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section boys and girls basketball championships being played on a Wednesday instead of the more traditional days of Friday and Saturday?

According to assistant commissioner Will DeBoard, the section was informed early in the school year that a postponed concert by Madonna at the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento was going to be held during dates (Feb. 23-24) that the section had thought would be available to it for this year’s section finals.

“It was a scramble,” DeBoard said. “We had to look for other places where we could have it.”

The Golden 1 Center, which is operated by the Sacramento Kings and has always done its best to accommodate both the Sac-Joaquin for section finals and the California Interscholastic Federation for its state championships, then gave the section the option to have one day of games on the Wednesday before the weekend. The Kings weren’t coming off of their NBA All-Star break until the next day. The section then had to decide if it would alter the schedule of its own playoffs and it did just that for the top three divisions. The section’s D4, D5 and D6 championships were kept on the same schedule as before and will be played on Friday at UC Davis.

“Whenever possible, we want as many of these game as possible here,” DeBoard said. “The kids and the schools love it.”

“It’s such a blessing,” said Sacramento High senior guard Kendahl Hearne inside the G1C’s media room after his team won the D3 section title. “To be on the same court that some of the all-timers of the game have played is incredible.”

All of the players who were able to hit the floor on Wednesday likely had the same thoughts.

Note: Both the winning team and runner-up team will advance to next week’s CIF NorCal regional playoffs. Seedings and a placement of divisions will be announced by the CIF state office on Sunday.

Boys D1
Modesto Christian 68, Lincoln (Stockton) 63

There were some questionable losses during the season for the Crusaders, which is why they haven’t been in the top 25 of the State TOP 35 rankings since the preseason. But when it has been time to win big league games or section playoff games they have been as strong as usual.

Head coach Brice Fantazia holds his son as he talks about Modesto Christian’s latest section title.

Facing a league rival from Lincoln that was able to get a win against Modesto Christian two years ago in the Tri County Athletic League and had won in upsets to get to the Golden 1 Center over No. 2 seed Monterey Trail of Elk Grove and No. 3 seed Rocklin, the Crusaders never trailed in the second half and ground out another win over the Trojans.

With the win, head coach Brice Fantazia’s team captured its third straight title in the section’s top division, which is something that had not happened before. Modesto Christian (27-5) actually has the state record for consecutive section titles with 11 from 2000 to 2010, but those were in lower numbered divisions when those divisions were more based on enrollment (MC today has less than 100 students). It also marked the program’s 22nd overall section title since 1997, which is now tied for third with Washington of Easton on the all-time state list. The state record of 24 may be in reach since Mater Dei of Santa Ana now has to be in the highly competitive CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs. The Monarchs won their last section title last year when they were in the CIFSS D1 bracket and not in the Open Division.

“This year has taken years off of my life,” Fantazia said. “We had seven seniors last year and some of them knew exactly what we wanted and how to play. They knew about our tradition and the MC culture.”

In an early season loss to Berkeley, there were only nine players on the bench. Transfers who were ineligible early in the season started to become eligible in January. There also was continued movement of players later on as sophomore guard Rashad Cotton left for Mountain House.

Despite the ups and downs, the Crusaders got past Lincoln twice during league contests to capture their 27th straight league title (2nd most in state history). They also were still seeded No. 1 for the D1 section bracket despite both Monterey Trail and Rocklin having better records.

In Wednesday’s game, Lincoln (26-6) showed its feisty defense and converted on acrobatic drives to the hoop for a 15-14 lead after the first quarter and the Trojans were only down by 32-29 at halftime. They never led in the second half, but sliced a 10-point lead in the third quarter down to four twice down the stretch. Their best chance came with 27.0 seconds left when a shot rimmed out by Quentin Thompson that would have made it a 67-65 game.

Modesto Christian prevailed due to making more of its free throws (15 of 22 compared to 10 of 19 for Lincoln) and for getting a huge outing from senior Marcus Washington. He converted on 10-of-11 shots from the field and had a game-high 21 points plus he blocked three shots. The team’s leading player, junior guard Gavin Sykes, didn’t score in the second half until the final minutes but still had 16 points. Sophomore guard Myles Jones was another thorn for the Trojans as he finished with 17 points and four steals.

Both teams actually looked like they’ll be potentially even better next season. Lincoln had two juniors on Wednesday, Donez Lindsey and Anthony Moore, who have been regular contributors for head coach Anthony Matthews since they were freshmen. Lindsey had 18 points and four assists in the section final while Moore had 13 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Thompson, a senior, also ended in double figures with 16 points.

While Modesto Christian hasn’t been ranked as high statewide as in recent seasons, being in the Open Division of the CIF NorCal playoffs still seems likely since that is where the team wants to be and it has had a tradition of success in the NorCal Open bracket. This includes an appearance in the regional final last year (lost at home to St. Joseph of Santa Maria), a big win in 2021 in the regional final vs Campolindo of Moraga (later lost 59-50 in the state final to Corona Centennial) and a 2019 upset win in the regionals over Salesian of Richmond when it was 31-0 and was No. 1 in the state.

And despite the loss, Lincoln could be a team to beat in the NorCal D1 playoffs with MC in the higher Open Division along with others like Salesian, De La Salle of Concord, Riordan of San Francisco and perhaps St. Joseph if it is again placed in the north.

Girls D1
St. Mary’s (Stockton) 57, Folsom 51

In some ways, this was an upset since Folsom was the defending champion and also was higher in this week’s State TOP 35 rankings at No. 7 compared to St. Mary’s at No. 12. But it was more about two elite level teams grinding it out in a defensive dominated contest. And then there’s the mountainous history of the Rams. Can a team that had won 21 SJS titles ever win via an upset?

Emani King came back from a serious broken leg injury she suffered before last season when she was hit by a car in the St. Mary’s parking lot. She had one of the key baskets for the Rams in the game vs Folsom.

“I wrote down in really big letters before this game the words ‘guts’ and ‘heart’ and that’s what it took over four quarters,” said St. Mary’s head coach Alle Moreno, who won her first SJS title in her fourth season since taking over the program from previous head coach Tom Gonsalves. “This was not an offensive frenzy. It was a defensive frenzy.”

Perhaps the best example of the defense that the Rams played was Folsom’s Cal-bound all-state forward Kamryn Mafua only able to score four points. She did have a game-high 13 rebounds, but couldn’t get untracked on this night.

The Rams’ McDonald’s All-American, Jordan Lee, scored 20 points and had seven rebounds with four assists. Her two free throws with 37.5 seconds left gave St. Mary’s (25-5) a 56-51 lead as Folsom was clawing back into the game. The Bulldogs then had three chances to score on their ensuing possession but couldn’t convert.

Freshman Kori Rogers made her debut in the big arena and showed why she’s one of the top ninth graders in the nation and a possible future McDonald’s All-American herself. Rogers made four three-pointers and had a game-high 21 points.

Folsom (25-5) received a great performance from senior guard Ella Uriarte. She connected on 5-of-8 from three-point land and matched Rogers with 21 points. Dixie McLanahan also had 12 points for the Bulldogs.

With its 22nd section title, St. Mary’s also moved into a tie for third on the all-time state list with Berkeley, which has won 22 section titles from 1977 to 2015. The No. 1 and No. 2 schools on that list, Archbishop Mitty of San Jose (31) and Fresno Clovis West (23) are also expected to add to their totals later in the week.

Both Folsom and St. Mary’s also would appear to be strong candidates to be in the CIF NorCal Open Division playoffs that begin next week.

Boys D2
Vanden (Fairfield) 64, Del Oro (Loomis) 52

After losing in last year’s D3 section final to Sacramento, the Vikings still had to move up to D2 this season due to ongoing success over the past three seasons. They started out the bracket as the No. 3 seed, but were the top dog in the end with a solid win over a Golden Eagles’ squad that had upset top seed Jesuit of Carmichael on Monday in its semifinal game.

AnDrue Perkins had 13 points and four assists for Vanden in its victory over Del Oro.

Vanden, which knocked off No. 2 seed Capital Christian of Sacramento in its semifinal on Monday, also won its third section title in four years and became the fourth program in section history to win at least 10 all-time section titles. The team improved to 24-8 and has been on the bubble of the State TOP 35 rankings.

Four-year varsity performer Tyler Thompson shined for the Vikings. The D1 recruit had 22 points, three assists and four steals. Senior forward Ashan Huff, who missed all of last season with an injury, came through with 13 points and nine rebounds. Senior point guard AnDrue Perkins had the hot hand early and also scored 13 points.

One of the state’s leading grid-hoop athletes, Caden Pinnick, led Del Oro (24-8) with 18 points. Pinnick, a senior, also has been one of the top QBs in the section the last two seasons. Teammate Brendan Hawkins also reached double figures with 12 points.

As a team that lost in overtime last season in the CIF NorCal D2 regional playoffs to eventual D2 state champion San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno, if Vanden is in the CIF NorCal D2 bracket once again then it would probably be a favorite to go all the way this season. Its competitive equity resume, however, may be too strong for it to stay in D2 and instead it could be D1 when the CIF announces its seedings and division placements on Sunday.

“I’ve been told that they (the CIF) have been trying to keep teams where they’ve been competing before,” said victorious Vanden head coach Michael Holloway. “But we’ve been getting ready for this week and for next week by playing D1 competition.”

Girls D2
Whitney (Rocklin) 64, Vanden (Fairfield) 53

This was a matchup of one team that was a defending champion (Whitney) vs another team that was moved up a division that had won two straight SJS titles in D3. The defending champion won.

Harper Peterson and Sammy Schuler were the two leading scorers for Whitney in its triumph vs Vanden.

The Wildcats (22-9) also seemed to benefit by playing in one of the strongest leagues in Northern California with regular opponents such as Folsom and Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills). Vanden (24-8) had little difficulty in rolling to its league title, although the team traditionally tries to play as difficult of a schedule that it can.

Stanford-bound center Harper Peterson almost had a triple-double for Whitney. She scored 15 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked seven shots. Season-long observers of the Wildcats also raved about the day that senior guard/forward Sammy Shuler had. She led the team in scoring with 17 points and also handed out a game-high six assists. Marissa Shihadeh also reached double-figure scoring for the Wildcats with 11 points.

Sophomore Calonni Holloway led Vanden with 10 points. She is the daughter of boys head coach Michael Holloway and came into this season considered one of the top Class of 2026 players in the section. La’Miracle Lebon, a 6-foot-2 junior, only had eight points but led all rebounders with 14 and she had three assists and two blocks.

Ishan Wallace and head coach Sidney Duplessis shared a moment during the Sacramento High press conference.

Boys D3
Sacramento 72, Christian Brothers (Sacramento) 49

It was a repeat for the Dragons (25-7) as they extended an eight-point lead at halftime to a more comfortable 18-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

Despite the final score, it was not a foregone conclusion that Sacramento would win. In two previous meetings in the Capital Athletic League the teams split with the Dragons winning 69-54 in the first game and the Falcons taking the second game, 66-61.

Shobal Barksdale, a 6-foot-6 junior known for his inside dirty work, led Sacramento with 23 points and 16 rebounds. Five-foot-9 junior Ishan Wallace made 4-of-7 on three-pointers and ended with 16 points. Kendahl Hearne (6-3 senior) added 10 points and nine assists.

The Falcons (19-13) got a strong outing from 6-foot-4 junior Shawn Underwood Jr., who knocked in 22 points.

Girls D3
Vista del Lago (Folsom) 68, Manteca 49

The top-seeded Eagles (23-8) won their first-ever section title behind one of the top juniors in Northern California.

Ella Skrzynairz, a 5-foot-9 guard who averages more than 21 ppg, topped all scorers with 24 points. She also pulled down nine rebounds. Junior center Callie Jacobosky also made 8 of 9 shots and had 16 points.

The Buffaloes dropped to 25-7 overall and had two senior guards, Brea Viera and Jada Ikharo, both score a team-high 12 points.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He has been credentialed to cover CIF state championships in basketball since the first one in 1980. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle:

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