Early in the biggest game of his players' young lives on Friday night, John DePonte implored effort.
"Get dirty! Get dirty!" the Pleasant Grove High School boys basketball coach shouted.
The Eagles got dirty. They contested shots. They crashed the boards.
They crashed to the floor in search of a loose ball, punctuated by the sound of flesh and craniums hitting hardwood. The effort triggered a rout, Pleasant Grove making history with a 73-57 thumping of Santa Monica in the CIF State Division I championship game at Sleep Train Arena.
The Eagles of Elk Grove finished a frustrating second to rival Sheldon in Delta River League and Sac-Joaquin Section D-I action. They responded with fury and purpose to become the first section boys team to hoist a D-I state championship trophy. Jesuit lost state D-I title games in 1993 and '94, and Sheldon came up just short last season.
Among those offering hugs and high-fives at midcourt late Friday was Pleasant Grove principal Hank Meyer. He coached Jesuit in the 1990s.
Pleasant Grove (28-6) rolled by doing what it does best: sharing the ball, shooting well and defending.
Ace shooter Matt Hayes led all scorers with 19 points, making three three-pointers. Floor leader Malik Thames drove and pulled up for 16 points, and versatile forward Cole Nordquist had 13 to go with nine rebounds.
Sophomore center Marquese Chriss endured foul trouble but managed nine points and nine rebounds.
James Watson played typical stingy defense on the Santa Monica guards, Thomas Fitzgerald came off the bench for inside muscle, scoring six points with eight rebounds, and Matt Smrekar had four points, four rebounds and his usual brand of frenetic defense. He also was presented with the CIF sportsmanship award for the game.
"We played great," a relieved Smrekar said. "It all goes back to our freshman year, when we came together. We have great chemistry. We don't have the biggest names, but we play hard and together with great chemistry, and we won this because we're a team."
Smrekar said Pleasant Grove's last defeat, which came on the same floor, was the over-the-top motivator. It was a 60-57 setback to Sheldon in the D-I section final. Sheldon reached the NorCal Regional Open final, falling to nationally ranked Archbishop Mitty of San Jose.
"That loss brought us together so much," Smrekar said. "We had to galvanize as a team, and we did. We put it all together with a fairy-tale ending. Highlight of our lives."
Defense was the key as the Eagles outrebounded the Vikings of the power-packed Southern Section 43-32, blocked eight shots and allowed few easy looks.
Chris Smith led Santa Monica (29-7) with 20 points. Cal-bound Jordan Mathews fouled out early in the fourth quarter with nine points on 3-of-12 shooting.
"This is the way to end it," Thames said. "We pride ourselves in our defense, and that wins games."
After methodically taking apart the Vikings for three-plus quarters, the Eagles finally unleashed their entertainment-value fun game.
An alley-oop dunk from Thames to Chriss with 2:24 produced a 67-53 lead and elicited roars through the NBA venue, none louder than the Pleasant Grove rooting section called "The Flock." Seconds later, Nordquist had a tipin, then Hayes dazzled with a reverse layup with 1:22 to go for a 71-53 lead.
One by one, the starters came out, allowing reserves to soak up some minutes and atmosphere.
What: CIF State Basketball Championships
When: Six games starting at 10 a.m. today, with the Open Division boys game between Mater Dei and Archbishop Mitty at 8 p.m.
Where: Sleep Train Arena
Tickets: $16 for adults; $10 for seniors, students, children 5 and older.
TV: Time Warner Cable Sports Net; very limited availability in the Sacramento region; check with your TV provider.
Live stream: cifstate.org