West Campus girls basketball coach John Langston affectionately calls his players "my babies."
He's amazed and pleased at how far his underclass-dominated team has come in such a short time.
So Saturday, Langston was more father figure than taskmaster in a 30-minute postgame locker room talk after the third-seeded Warriors lost to No. 1 Calaveras 56-45 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV girls championship game at Power Balance Pavilion.
Langston wanted his players to consider the positives:
It was their first trip to a girls section basketball final, a huge accomplishment for the demanding magnet school where sports take a back seat to academics. West Campus formed its athletic program from Hiram Johnson's in 2002.
They didn't back down against a more experienced and deeper Calaveras team that had played the year before in the title game. They were within 37-36 with 6:25 left and 46-42 with a little more than three minutes remaining.
They won 20 consecutive games, including a 50-47 semifinal win over perennial D-IV power and No. 2-seeded Colfax, which had knocked the Warriors out of the postseason in the quarterfinals the two previous seasons.
And the Golden Empire League champion's season isn't over. The Warriors still have at least one more game in the CIF Northern California Regionals that conclude March 17 at Power Balance.
Langston understands the magnitude of his players' accomplishments. He was the architect of Sacramento High's rise in girls basketball more than a decade ago, leading the Dragons to four straight section championship game appearances, including the 2007 D-III title.
"I'm excited about this team," Langston said. "These girls are young we started four sophomores and a junior. Yet they're ambitious, and they want to win every game. My job is to keep my babies encouraged because they don't understand losing."
They know they don't like it.
"We believed we could win today, so we're definitely disappointed," said junior forward Haley Shaner, who led the Warriors with 23 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots while playing nearly all 32 minutes. "I think fatigue and inexperience hurt us, but we also know we have a lot to learn."
West Campus was outrebounded 48-38, and Langston said his team allowed Calaveras too many easy baskets at the end.
Senior guard Savannah Duncan led Calaveras (28-3) with 19 points, and senior post Madison Cox had 15 rebounds and 11 points.
Sophomore Erianna Williams scored 11 points and had 11 rebounds for West Campus (24-6).
"Late in the game, we took some plays off on the defensive end, and that team never did," Langston said. "Still, this is a major accomplishment. These kids came from nothing to something big. I think down the road, West Campus is going to make a mark on this town."