José Luis Villegas Trey Belton and his Capital Christian teammates hope to be celebrating Saturday after they face St. Joseph of Alameda for the Northern California Division V title at American Canyon High School.

NorCal basketball playoff notes: Young Capital Christian coach faces legend in St. Joe's Lippi

Published: Friday, Mar. 15, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5C
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 11:39 am

The newcomer takes on the crafty veteran Saturday in the CIF Northern California Division V boys championship.

Capital Christian first-year coach Devon Jones, youthful and energized at 31, will lead the Cougars against St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda, led by a Hall of Fame coach Don Lippi. The game will be played at American Canyon High School in Solano County.

Lippi, who has coached at various schools throughout the Bay Area for 34 years, has won 725 games. His Pilots seek a NorCal D-V championship three-peat and the program's ongoing record ninth regional title.

St. Joseph was coached for years by the late Frank LaPorte, including the 1991 and '92 D-I NorCal and state title teams led by Jason Kidd.

Capital Christian is new to all of this. The two-time defending Sac-Joaquin Section small-school champion is in its first regional final. Jones replaced coach Terry Battenberg, who is conducting camps and clinics in Australia and New Zealand.

"I've learned a lot this year, and it's been a great ride," Jones said. "This team, we're all good for each other."

And Division V is not to be confused with small-time talent. Capital (26-4) is led by dominant frontcourt players in 6-foot-6 Trey Belton and national football lineman recruit Nifae Lealao (6-5), both of whom have helped absorb the loss of 6-8 D.J. Wilson, sidelined with a bad back. Guards UC Iroegbu and Tyler Jennings also have played well.

St. Joseph (23-11) is paced by 6-7 forward Temidayo Yussuf and 6-2 guard Justin Brown.

Road warriors – Oak Ridge and Berkeley advanced to the girls' NorCal Division I championship game at Sleep Train Arena the hard way. The teams are a combined 6-0 in NorCal road games. Oak Ridge is seeded 10th and Berkeley 12th.

Oak Ridge won NorCal and state D-I titles in 2010 under coach Steve White. Berkeley is in a record 16th regional final as one of the storied programs in state history.

Open dream – The idea for the Open Division was to get heavyweight teams in their own division in hopes of creating titanic showdowns.

So far, so good.

National power Bishop O'Dowd of Oakland plays fellow powerhouse St. Mary's-Stockton in the girls' Open Division on Saturday night, followed by Sheldon and Archbishop Mitty of San Jose in the boys' Open.

Sheldon and Mitty are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in Northern California by MaxPreps. Sheldon, the 2012 NorCal D-I champion, is coming off an overtime win over state-ranked No. 1 Salesian of Richmond. Mitty is led by 6-9 McDonald's All-American Aaron Gordon, the Cal-Hi Sports State Player of the Year last season after he led the Monarchs to a repeat state D-II championship.

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