Six days after joy and jubilation, there was a look of collective despair.
The improbable journey for the Pleasant Grove High School girls basketball team came to a crushing conclusion Friday night at the hands of a team that was a bit taller, faster and decidedly more accurate. Canyon Springs of Moreno Valley prevailed 56-30 in the CIF State Division I championship game at Sleep Train Arena, applying the defensive clamps on an Eagles team that was used to applying the muscle and stops.
“I was able to reflect this morning, to think of what happened this year, and it’s special,” said a visibly spent James McKeever, Pleasant Grove’s coach since the program started in 2005. “I know the girls are upset right now, but not a lot of us will ever get back to this level, this kind of game. They did everything they could, and we tried, but our shots didn’t fall.”
Pleasant Grove (25-10)tried to become the lowest-seeded Sac-Joaquin Section team – girls or boys – to win a state championship. The Eagles placed second to Oak Ridge in the Delta River League, then fell to their rivals from El Dorado Hills in the section semifinals at Pacific. Then the real fun started. As an 11 seed, Pleasant Grove went 4-0 in the Northern California field, including three anxious two-point victories, culminating with an emphatic victory over three-time defending champion Berkeley last Saturday at Sleep Train.
It wasn’t a lack of effort that soured the end of the season for Pleasant Grove, maybe more a lack of height. And rims that just didn’t obey. The Eagles shot 18 percent in the first half, though they trailed only 21-15. Canyon Springs (25-6) opened up double-digit leads in the second half and shot 42 percent overall to win its first title.
Cheyenne Greenhouse, a 5-foot-10 combo guard who dominated throughout the Southern California playoffs, had 24 points for the Cougars, and 6-3 center Charnea Johnson-Chapman had 10 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Brittany Nguyen led Pleasant Grove with eight points, and Aaliyah Pena and Kim Schmelz had six each. Patricia Castrence failed to score after making so many big shots in the NorCal rounds, and she wept on the bench as time ran out. McKeever consoled her by assuring that her efforts got the Eagles here. Pleasant Grove, McKeever reminded, won as a team and lost as a team.
“They’re all down because they’re competitors,” McKeever said. “That’s what I feel bad about. They gave everything. I want them to say when they leave the floor, ‘I gave maximum effort.’ They did.”
Pena, an affable senior who aspires to own a restaurant that serves Mexican food and soul food, said the long faces won’t last. There’s more to celebrate this season than to bemoan.
“I love this team,” Pena said. “It worked for us because we’re not a selfish team. We didn’t care who scored. To get this far was amazing.”
Pleasant Grove badly wanted to duplicate what the Eagles boys did last season. They didn’t win the league or the section, but they won NorCal and state titles. The extra irony is McKeever has expressed interest in the Pleasant Grove boys job after John DePonte stepped down.
“I’ll take a couple of days to think about things and talk to our athletic director (Jeff Caton) and see what happens,” said McKeever, adding that new challenges are a good thing. “But I won’t leave the school. Love the school.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.