Saturday night proved why Sacramento is a hotbed for high school sports.
A crowd of more than 10,000 filed into Sacramento State to watch De La Salle of Concord play Folsom in the inaugural CIF Division I Open Division championship football game, perhaps the most important prep event in area history.
A few miles south, a near-packed house of 1,100 watched national boys basketball powers Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and Sheldon tussle at Sheldon High School.
The fans were well entertained.
Behind star 6-foot-8 post Aaron Gordon's 24 points and jaw-dropping athletic play, Mitty held off a feisty and injury-depleted Sheldon 71-65.
Mitty is the two-time defending CIF state D-II champion and ranked 12th nationally by USA Today and Maxpreps.com.
Still, Sheldon (ranked No. 16 by Maxpreps) played the Monarchs tough despite missing four key players with injuries and another waiting to clear transfer eligibility. Among them is returning Bee Player of the Year D'Erryl Williams, out with a bone bruise in his foot.
Sheldon's veterans Dakarai Allen (14 points) and Ryan Manning (12 points) battled foul trouble guarding Gordon, a national Top-10 recruit, who also missed time in foul trouble.
But 5-9 freshman point guard Devin Greene, Sheldon's next emerging star, dazzled with 20 points, and senior Antonio Lewis added 17 points, including a three-pointer that had the Huskies within three, 68-65, with 23 seconds to play.
But Gordon made three of four foul shots and Allen couldn't connect on two attempts from the floor to close it out.
"We didn't play up to our potential," said Sheldon coach Joey Rollings. "We kept making that run but falling short. Still, I'm proud of my guys. They battled against a good team and a great player in Gordon."
Like the De La Salle-Folsom game, CIF officials hope that non-league matchups like Mitty and Sheldon will be a prelude to reinvigorating this season's NorCal and state basketball playoffs, which are held at Sleep Train Arena in March.
In past years, megapowers such as Sheldon and Mitty played for different divisional titles based on enrollment. Last year, Sheldon won the CIF NorCal Division I title and Mitty won the D-II crown.
But the CIF approved a groundbreaking open division this season that will put as many as eight of Northern California's strongest boys teams in the same bracket. That likely will include Sheldon and Mitty.
The idea is to try to infuse new blood into the divisional playoffs, give public schools a better chance of winning state titles and, with some new schools in the playoff pool, boost NorCal and state playoff attendance.
In the last two years, private schools have won all 10 boys and girls state titles, even though 92 percent of the state's 1,500 high schools are public schools.
Rollings has mixed feelings about the concept. He thinks it penalizes a public school program like his that competes with the top monied private schools.
"It is what it is," Rollings said. "Now every game is going to be like a final, so you aren't going to be able to rest, and that's going to hurt. But once we get all our guys back, I think we're going to be pretty good."